Health

Mercy's open-heart program completes 44 surgeries in first 5 months

Newstrack: Surgery program obtained certificate of need, despite arguments from St. Luke's

John Fritz, 66, of Marion, is pictured Nov. 1 at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. He was the first patient to have open-heart surgery at Mercy, which gained permission to start the program in November 2016. (Photo courtesy of Mercy Medical Center)
John Fritz, 66, of Marion, is pictured Nov. 1 at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. He was the first patient to have open-heart surgery at Mercy, which gained permission to start the program in November 2016. (Photo courtesy of Mercy Medical Center)
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After a fight for state approval, Mercy Medical Center last year joined the ranks of Eastern Iowa hospitals offering open-heart procedures to patients.

Mercy obtained a certificate of need — required for new services and medical equipment costing more than $1.5 million — from the State Health Facilities Council in November 2016 to institute the program. UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital argued against the certificate as a duplication of services, but the council granted the certificate.

Mercy hired Dr. CC Lee as the hospital’s medical director of cardiac, thoracic and vascular surgery services to build a cardiovascular surgical program.

He started his work in June 2017 and began training a heart team of nurses, surgical technicians and cardiologists. This is the third heart surgery program Lee has developed during his career, with the first two being in Wisconsin.

What’s Happened Since

The hospital’s new cardiovascular surgical program is “moving along,” Lee said. “Things are good. The most rewarding thing is the fact that we’re able to do that open-heart procedure here consistently.”

The program’s first open-heart surgery took place in November 2017. By early April, the program had completed 44 open-heart surgeries.

The cardiac surgical team also is offering a convergent hybrid procedure for patients with long-standing atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat.

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The procedure — a convergence of technology and technique that combines the work of a cardiothoracic surgeon and a cardiac electrophysiologist — is the only one of its kind offered in Iowa, according to the hospital.

Mercy has completed two of those procedures since the program launched in November, Lee said.

The program also completed Mercy’s first off-pump coronary artery bypass, called “beating heart” surgery, in December, he said.

“For the most part, the bread-and-butter type of surgery, such as the bypass surgery, is very solid,” Lee said. “We can do it with confidence.”

According to data from the Iowa Hospital Association, St. Luke’s performed 328 open-heart surgeries in 2015.

The association reported St. Luke’s handled 58.5 percent of all cardiology-related discharges in a seven-county region — Linn, Benton, Jones, Buchanan, Cedar, Delaware and Iowa counties — between 2009 and 2015, and Mercy was responsible for 41.4 percent of discharges.

Lee said he hopes to see the Mercy program performing 50 percent of the heart surgeries in Cedar Rapids.

Mercy cardiologists, he said, probably see about half the heart patients in town so his focus now is to build the program.

“We’re only five months into this, so the most important thing is to get the program established and cases completed with confidence so the community feels comfortable coming here,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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