Heart of the Matter Cooley Dickinson Unveils New Cardiovascular Services Suite

Craig Melin may be impressed by each new high-tech advance at Cooley Dickinson Hospital – but he’s no longer surprised.“The technology keeps changing,” said Melin, the Northampton-based hospital’s president. “Teaching hospitals used to be the only place for a lot of that technology, but as it becomes more common, it reaches a point where it’s used more effectively in community hospitals.”

The most recent case in point is the facility’s new cardiovascular services suite, which allows physicians to perform some state-of-the-art heart procedures, such as cardiac catheterization, for the first time on the Cooley Dickinson grounds.

“The opening of the cardiovascular suite essentially begins a new era in the treatment and practice of heart-related diseases,” said Dr. Mark N. Porway, medical director of the suite. “Patients who need diagnostic cardiac care can now access these important services in one dedicated location at CDH.”

To hear Melin tell it, such services make perfect sense for the 21st-century community hospital.

“Cardiologists can tell you that these procedures often have better outcomes at community hospitals,” he said. “We’ve made a visible commitment to cardiology throughout our facilities and brought in several terrific physicians, so people can get great cardiac care close to home.”

In this issue, The HealthCare News examines the new life pumping through Cooley Dickinson’s cardiology services – and what that means for patients in and around Northampton.

A Heart for Patients

For the first time, Cooley Dickinson will offer services such as defibrillator implants, cardiac catheterization, and electrophysiology, conducted by four Northampton Cardiology Associates physicians: Porway, Dr. James Kirchhoffer, Dr. Steven DiPillo, and Dr. Thomas Weil. Kirchhoffer was recruited to Northamp-ton from Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, while Porway left Holyoke Medical Center for CDH.

According to Kathleen Bowers, clinical coordinator of cardiac rehabilitation, the new services are among the most cutting-edge in the cardiovascular field.
Cardiac catheterization is a test that detects blocked arteries leading to the heart, as well as other heart problems. A thin tube, called a catheter, is inserted into an artery and guided to the heart, and a dye is injected through the tube.

Viewing the dye through an X-ray can show doctors how well the heart is pumping, whether any coronary arteries are blocked, whether the heart valves are working property, and whether the heart has been damaged by disease. Catheterization can even point out previously unknown heart defects that have been present since birth.

That procedure falls under what Bowers calls the ‘plumbing’ aspects of cardiovascular work. The ‘electrical’ side, which includes pacemaker and defibrillator implants, will get a major boost at CHD with the introduction of electrophysiology studies conducted by Kirchhoffer, a specialist in that field.

Simply put, the heart has its own electrical system, signals from which regulate the heart’s rhythm. If a problem arises in this system, the heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or with an irregular pattern.

In an electrophysiology study, electrodes are attached to catheters, which are inserted into the body through a blood vessel and threaded to the heart. These electrodes can read electrical activity in several areas of the heart, as well as send impulses to stimulate the heart and trigger the exact arrhythmia that is causing the problem.

Defibrillator implants will be performed for the first time at CDH as well, and while the hospital has conducted pacemaker implants in the past, many of those procedures will be moved from the operating room to the new suite, which features a recovery area for patients, complete with a small kitchen.

“We designed and built the cardiovascular suite with the patients in mind,” said Porway, who left his post as associate director of Baystate’s cardiac catheterization labs to help develop the new program at CDH. He said the design team wound up creating the largest procedure room of its type in the Pioneer Valley.

In addition, he said, “the rooms are spacious and modern, and the diagnostic equipment is the most up-to-date and can be expanded as we offer additional cardiovascular procedures.”

Suite Ambition

As Cooley Dickinson moves ahead with a $50 million, 116,000-square-foot expansion project, the hospital has been examining other ways to expand upon its services to better provide care to the community, Bowers said.

Although the cardiovascular suite is a separate piece from the physical expansion – occupying lower-level space in the existing building directly below the current cardiology department – it fits well into the ambitious spirit of the expansion, she said.

“The hospital did surveys and analyses of the community to determine what services the community would support,” Bowers said. “From there, the decision was made that there was a need for these types of cardiovascular services here.”

One major reason, of course, is keeping patients close to home, she added. “This allows people to stay in their community for services instead of having to travel far away, and people like that. It’s easier for families. After looking at the options, our task force wanted to move forward with this suite.”

That process involved polling physicians on what features they would include in such a program – and the current roster of services is not necessarily the final word. The General Electric Innova table that is the centerpiece of the procedure room is large and adaptable to a wide range of treatments, Bowers explained.

“Once the decision was made, everything came into being quite rapidly,” she told The HealthCare News. “Demolition and construction – the entire reconfiguring of the space – started in mid-February and moved along at a breakneck pace.”

In fact, the construction of the cardiovascular services suite has been the fastest, most comprehensive facilities improvement project in the hospital’s 120-year history.

“Once we committed to this project, all the resources were pulled together quickly to make it happen,” said Melin. “It’s atypical to have a cardiovascular suite conceived, designed, built, and implemented in such a short period of time – especially considering that the concept of the suite was adjusted when Dr. Kirchhoffer decided to join us, and we added electrophysiology.”

Bowers said she is impressed with Cooley Dickinson’s financial commitment to new cardiovascular services at a time when so many other capital projects are being undertaken.

“The hospital’s not going to nickel-and-dime this,” Bowers said. “It’s a huge financial undertaking, but when you improve the hospital, you make an investment in people by allowing them to stay in their own community to get the services they need.

“It’s really very forward-thinking of the hospital administration,” she added. “Everything is a risk. Things cost a lot of money. But Mr. Melin has had a tremendous vision in looking at these services and saying, ‘let’s go for it.’ I think we’re starting to reap the benefits already in the people working in this department. People look at Cooley Dickinson as a great place to work that will give you the tools you need.”

Melin reiterated that Cooley Dickinson will continue to evaluate patients’ needs and introduce additional services to the cardiovascular suite in the future.

“I see this as the beginning of a building program in cardiology,” he said. “It’s certainly a strong commitment by Northampton Cardiology Associates and the hospital to cardiac care in this community.”

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