Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NorthBay to open heart center in '09

NorthBay to open heart center in '09
By Robin Miller
Article Launched: 05/23/2008

Medical and administrative staff from NorthBay Medical Center gather Thursday to announce the development of a new Heart and Vascular Center, set to open in spring 2009. The job requires turning two existing operating rooms into a state-of-the-art surgical suite with high-definition monitors and tele- conferencing capabilities. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Solano County residents in need of advanced cardiac care no longer will have to be shipped to neighboring counties for treatment come next spring.

NorthBay Healthcare unveiled its plans Thursday for a new state-of-the-art "Heart & Vascular Center" it plans to have up and operating by spring 2009.

Already in place is a new cardiac catheterization lab and construction will begin in June on a new $4.8 million high-tech cardiovascular operating room at NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield. It will be the most sophisticated and high-tech operating room of its kind in the region, NorthBay officials noted, and will involve the dismantling of two existing operating rooms to construct a single state-of-the-art surgical suite.

How high-tech?

"We will be able to teleconference while operating," explained cardiac surgeon Dr. Ramzi Deeik. Linked to doctors in other areas, surgeries conducted in the new facility will be able to be watched live.

"In that way, we will be able to teach or to get second opinions," he said. In addition, with high-definition monitors, the surgeons will be able to call up and view images taken before surgery and view them as needed.

The hospital already has obtained the equipment for its catheterization lab, though procedures done locally currently are limited to opening up clogged blood vessels in arms and legs. Opening clogged blood vessels near the heart will wait until the full Heart Center is operational.

The concept of a one-site-serves-all heart center has been in the works for several years, officials said.

"It truly is ridiculous for a growing regions this size - with an aging population that will need these services more than ever - to be without top-quality advanced cardiovascular surgery services," said Gary Passama, CEO and president of NorthBay Healthcare.

He noted that in 2006, some 1,400 residents had to travel outside of Solano County for the heart treatments they needed.

"The time it takes to move a critically-ill heart patient from here to another county where these services are currently available is too often a life-and-death proposition."

Asked why it has taken until now to plan for such services locally, Passama said the infrastructure had to be in place, finances had to be in place and the population had to grow.

And at a time when the government "continues to reduce its payments to doctors and hospitals, which lose money on caring for the state's poor and elderly residents," the center presents a challenge, Passama said, requiring significant investment and training. But it is vital, he said.

"As the state reduces its Medi-Cal reimbursements, NorthBay has to look to new lines of services to diversify its revenue stream," he said. "But more importantly, this is critical, essential advanced medicine that our friends, neighbors and loved ones here at home need. And NorthBay is committed to filling that gap in local health care."

Population growth is a key part of the need for the new center, officials agreed.

"Sending patients outside the county for cardiac care always delays treatment because you must arrange transportation and hospital admission. For some patients, that delay can be life-threatening," said Dr. Jeffrey Breneisen, medical director for cardiac services at the Fairfield hospital. "And while NorthBay could have chosen a minor expansion into cardiac care, they have instead committed to developing a center of excellence."

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