Sunday, September 7, 2003

Regional asset

Heart hospital: Center of excellence

The Tristate's biggest group of heart specialists is determined to pursue a plan to build a new $55 million world-class cardiac hospital, despite fierce opposition from community hospitals and a proposed Ohio law that would halt all new specialty hospitals in the state.

Ohio Heart Health Center's 35 doctors, led by Dr. Dean Kereiakes, are partnering with Deaconess Hospital's parent company to create the new for-profit "center of excellence," possibly in Norwood. The cardiologists envision a center comparable to the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic. They also welcome partnerships with hospitals throughout the region to form a new network to deliver faster, more expert cardiac care.

What is there not to like about this joint venture? It would add an invaluable new asset to this region.

Full-service hospital officials accuse specialty or "boutique" hospitals of skimming off the most profitable or less severely ill patients. They say community hospitals need the cardiac, orthopedic, neurosurgery and other high-paying cases to offset losses from treating poor patients and others. Some complain that doctors who own hospitals will have conflicts of interest in referring patients to their own businesses.

But community hospitals won't fold; they'll adjust to the market. Self-referral is rife throughout all hospital systems, including not-for-profits. Ohio Heart officials project 4 to 6 percent of their patients will be indigent, which they say equals or exceeds rates at most not-for-profit hospitals here. And because they seek to partner with community hospitals regionwide, some profits would be funneled back to the not-for-profit system.

Dr. Kereiakes insists it's not about profits; it's about control, to assure staffing levels and the most advanced technologies and therapies. Greater Cincinnati has eight hospital heart programs, with three more in the works - more than Cleveland and Columbus combined. Some programs here do fewer surgeries than the state-recommended minimum of 250 a year.

A new state-of-the-art cardiac hospital could help spur consolidation, reduce duplication, raise the quality of care at other hospitals and help recruit top research and surgical talent. If the doctors make good on their promises, it could transform cardiac care in this region and make this center a destination for the world.

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