Medical Center approved by state to install heart stents

The Medical Center in Columbus has received state approval to begin offering therapeutic cardiac catheterization procedures — or installation of heart stents — to patients.

The hospital received the go-ahead Feb. 11 to begin additional development for the launch of the heart procedures, although Ryan Chandler, president and chief executive officer of The Medical Center, said no firm timeline has been set.

“We don’t expect any additional construction,” he said. “We’re doing an equipment analysis, so we’re analyzing our current equipment to see what upgrades we may need, if any, to do the coronary interventions.”

The Medical Center, owned by Columbus Regional Healtcare System, was not required to receive the customary certificate of need from the Georgia Department of Community Health. Instead, it was eligible for an exemption offered under legislation passed in 2008 by the Georgia General Assembly to expand treatment in certain areas with the goal of improving patient outcomes.

The move puts The Medical Center in competition with St. Francis Hospital on Manchester Expressway, which is the only certified heart-surgery center in Columbus. The Medical Center had previously been able to handle heart diagnostic services, but this adds the ability to install stents to reopen clogged arteries.

There are an estimated 900 such catheterization procedures performed in the city each year, with St. Francis Hospital and about 15 affiliated cardiologists doing roughly 300 open-heart surgeries annually.

Robert Granger, president and CEO of St. Francis, said he has not seen the official decision by the state and will “reserve judgement” as to whether or not to appeal the exemption for The Medical Center.

But he did express disappointment that approval has been given for the interventional cardiology services, and that he doesn’t see cardiologists in the community getting behind such treatment at a hospital that is not also approved to do open-heart surgery.

“Because of the small percentage of cases that would be appropriate for care in such a free-standing program, we do not believe it will have a significant impact on St. Francis Hospital and our outstanding comprehensive cardiac program,” said Granger, who pointed out his hospital’s services should get even better with the opening of a new Heart Hospital on its existing campus this summer.

A coronary catheterization, by and large, is considered a very safe procedure, according to the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health. Very few of them result in patients experiencing immediate negative effects and being taken directly into an open-heart surgery room. But it still is a possibility.

Chandler said The Medical Center has reached an agreement with East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala., about a 45-minute drive away, to receive any patients in need of emergency heart surgery. It also has agreements with emergency medical service providers in the area to transport patients there.

“We would fly them or drive them, whatever the patient’s needs were. But we are working on the local EMS folks to make sure those protocols are put in place,” he said.

The Medical Center now is working up projections on how many heart stent procedures it can handle, Chandler said, although he does “believe that we’ll have a busy program here at The Medical Center.”

The CEO said he and Columbus Regional President and CEO Chuck Stark met with local cardiologists last year to discuss the new heart services, with many expressing support. The executives are now scheduling times to meet with the heart doctors again to brief them further on their plans.

CORRECTIONThis story was updated at 7:45 a.m. Friday to correct the spelling of "stent."