Cedar Rapids cardiology clinic picks St. Luke's, upsets patients

Clinic previously provided service at both Cedar Rapids hospitals; change takes effect June 1

After about 35 years of letting Cedar Rapids patients choose where they want to be seen, the largest cardiology clinic in Eastern Iowa will provide care only at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Officials with UnityPoint Clinic-Cardiology, formerly known as Cardiologists L.C., said the change will become effective June 1, allowing the group of cardiologists to focus on developing a “heart and vascular center of excellence.”

The center will be based at St. Luke’s Hospital, which acquired UnityPoint in 2010, and aims to offer specialized, state-of-the-art care so patients don’t have to travel outside the Cedar Rapids area.

“Our goal and commitment is to build and implement a center for cardiac care that is the best in the community and the best in the region,” said Todd Langager, physician and president of the Cedar Rapids-based UnityPoint Clinic-Cardiology.

“By developing state-of-the-art cardiac care, we are going to improve options and provide better care,” Langager said. “So it’s to the patients’ benefit.”

But some patients and Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids – where UnityPoint cardiologists used to provide service – are not happy with the change. Mercy officials say it takes away patient options at a time when patient-center care should take precedent.

And some patients say it feels oppressive.

“This has now become a dictatorship,” said Donna Aljets, 61, of Marion, whose 35-year-old daughter sees a cardiologist with UnityPoint for a heart valve problem. “They are dictating where you have to go for care if you’re a cardiology patient.”


Aljets said her daughter, father and mother all have been seen by the same UnityPoint cardiologist over the years – someone she respects and trusts. But, Aljets said, she’s not interested in switching hospitals.

“I really want to see a doctor on this list that I have a lot of respect for, but now I don’t have that option,” she said. “And I think the backlash on this is going to be a lot bigger than they ever thought.”

Aljets said her family probably will switch cardiologists because of UnityPoint’s new exclusivity. But, she said, she’s not happy about it and blames politics and local competition.

“They have forgotten what they are all about,” she said. “It’s not about how much money they can make.”

Cam Campbell – cardiologist and medical director of the Cedar Rapids Heart Center, which still provides cardiology services at Mercy Medical Center – said Mercy doesn’t support UnityPoint’s exclusivity.

“We feel that putting patients at the center will drive a better outcome,” Campbell said. “When you limit choices, you limit potential outcomes.”

But, Campbell stressed, Mercy Medical Center will continue offering the same services they did before, including emergency room treatment and routine clinical services. In fact, Campbell said, Mercy was the first “chest pain certified clinic” in Linn County, meaning cardiologists for the past four years have been able to open 100 percent of patients’ arteries within 90 minutes of their arrival.

Very few hospitals in the nation can do that,” he said.

Campbell said patient-centered care thrives on communication and choices, and he doesn’t believe any hospital can meet every need of every current or potential patient.

“When you tell patients you have to come here and we are having a center of excellence that can do everything, I beg your pardon,” Campbell said. “I think second opinions are valuable.”

Since UnityPoint’s announcement, according to Campbell, Mercy has been “overwhelmed” with callers asking to transfer away from UnityPoint so they can continue going to Mercy.

About 25 percent of UnityPoint’s patients were going to Mercy, before this change, and about 90 percent of Cedar Rapids Heart Center patients are at Mercy, according to clinic officials. Campbell said that while Mercy doesn’t support this change, it does clarify the vision of “making Mercy the best in patient-care experience and outcomes.”

“It’s an opportunity for us to work even closer as a team to help improve those outcomes, which have been amazing,” Campbell said.

'A perfect fit for us'

Even though UnityPoint has been serving patients at both Mercy and St. Luke’s for years, Langager with UnityPoint Clinic-Cardiology said St. Luke’s has several cardiology specialties that Mercy doesn’t provide. Those include cardiac surgery, and several specialized procedures.

“Those are examples of things that we only do here and that allow us to grow our areas of expertise,” Langager said. “Medicine is more complex, and we are devoting our energies in much more defined areas.”

Before now, according to Langager, UnityPoint has had to dedicate a physician to be at Mercy for emergent care, and “that has been time consuming and resource consuming.” Removing that obligation allows St. Luke’s to focus on becoming a regional leader in a rapidly-changing healthcare landscape, Langager said.

“This is a perfect fit for us,” he said.

Langager said St. Luke’s has heard from several patients who have preferred Mercy in the past and are uncertain about the need for this change. He said some people expressed disappointment. But, he said, the majority are understanding and supportive.

At this point, he said, the number of patients who have decided to leave UnityPoint has been “quite minimal.”

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