Hamilton Medical Center, flagship of Hamilton Health Care System, has been granted the Certificate of Need to develop an open heart surgery program by Georgia’s Department of Community Health.
G. Lamar Lyle, president and CEO of Lyle Industries and chair of Hamilton Health Care System’s Board of Trustees, found himself in the unenviable position of being a heart patient in 2011. He shared his thoughts on what the new open heart surgery program will mean for the community and for heart patients like him.
“Through the decades, I’ve served in many roles with Hamilton’s Boards of Trustees, to include Whitfield Healthcare Foundation, Royal Oaks, and chair of the Hamilton Health Care System Board of Trustees," said Mr. Lyle. "In 2011, I had heart issues and personally experienced what it is like to travel for heart care. It is a very difficult experience for family caring for loved ones and it makes it difficult for the patient to receive care and ongoing follow-up. I am very pleased to see this opportunity for our community and for the many patients and families that struggle with receiving care so far away from their home and their loved ones. I am excited to see open heart surgery becoming available right here at home for so many who need this level of care.”
Richard C. Morrison, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Chattanooga, who has performed a significant number of open heart surgeries for residents of the Northwest Georgia region and who is working with Hamilton to develop the open heart program, stated in his letter to the Georgia Department of Community Health during the CON process, “The new comprehensive cardiac program at Hamilton will provide the quality and continuity of care that patients and families of Northwest Georgia expect and deserve. Right now, they have to travel long, time-consuming, and many times congested distances across state lines to receive these services. By providing an extensive range of cardiac-related services, all located in Dalton, Hamilton will improve the access and quality of cardiac services available to residents of Northwest Georgia. In doing so, it will prevent these patients from traveling long distances to receive sophisticated cardiac care with an expected reduction in high cardiac mortality and morbidity rates seen in this high-risk population. Additionally, as a Level II Trauma Center with Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery capabilities, Hamilton will be able to treat both cardiac and thoracic trauma patients.”
In response to the recent DCH decision granting the CON, Dr. Morrison said, “Having practiced cardiac surgery in this region for over 30 years, I am very excited that Hamilton Medical Center was able to obtain approval to build an open heart surgery program. This will give Hamilton Medical Center the ability to create a comprehensive cardiovascular program at an elite level. I look forward to building this program with Hamilton Medical Center, which will be a great benefit for the residents of North Georgia and surrounding regions.”
Robert Chandler, chair of the Hamilton Medical Center Board of Trustees, explained the broader impact of being granted the CON. “Hamilton has long been a great community hospital and is maturing to a regional healthcare center for the entire Northwest Georgia region,” said Mr. Chandler. “The halo effect of having an open heart surgery program benefits the community through a wide range of additional services the hospital will be able to provide, but it goes beyond that. There is a tremendous economic benefit to the region as well.”
As Dr. Morrison’s DCH letter stated, and as Mr. Chandler referenced, there is a halo effect for a health system and a community that is operating at this very high level of care, and now these services will soon be available here in the community so that patients and their families do not have to travel. An example of this expanded service opportunity would be the ability for Hamilton’s oncology services to do lung surgeries in treating certain types of cancer.
Additionally, an open heart program will increase access to care as more and more physicians are seeking health systems that offer these types of advanced treatments. According to Hamilton Physician Group cardiologist Stephen D. Rohn, MD, “An open heart surgery program will allow us to recruit physicians in cardiology and other competitive specialties that might not have otherwise considered moving to this area. This advantage will bring greater access to care to the community and to the entire Northwest Georgia region.”
In the last five years alone, Hamilton has recruited more than 60 physicians and now has more than 280 physicians on medical staff with expertise in more than 40 specialties. The ability to bring even more specialists and experts to Dalton and the surrounding community would increase access to care for families in the community as well have a significant economic impact to the region, said officials.
Hamilton has long been a community partner, not only in providing for the healthcare needs of the community, but also as an employer and as an economic partner. A new open heart surgery program is expected to bring more jobs to the community with the addition of physicians, surgeons and surgical staff to support the program. Rob Bradham, president and CEO of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, said, “Hamilton Health Care System has long been one of our community’s most important economic engines. The addition of the Anna Shaw Children’s Institute, along with the upcoming opening of the Peeples Cancer Institute, are the most recent examples of the tremendous economic impact Hamilton has in Northwest Georgia. Those projects, along with the recent approval of open heart surgery, makes Hamilton a true regional center of excellence that drives the entire region’s economy.”
Local legislators also voiced their excitement over the decision from DCH to grant the CON. Rep. Kasey Carpenter echoed Mr. Bradham’s comments, saying, “This is a huge win for the health of our community and the economy of the entire region. Hamilton is an economic driver of our community, and they continue to invest in programs and growth throughout Northwest Georgia. Thanks to Jeff Myers and the entire staff at Hamilton Health Care System for fighting to provide the finest care for our citizens and investing in Northwest Georgia. This, my friends, is a huge victory for our community.
Senator Chuck Payne said, “This is the result of a wonderful collaboration of many people working together to better serve the interests and needs of Northwest Georgians. From local efforts of those at Hamilton Medical Center and others in Dalton, to Governor Brian Kemp permitting us his time to hear the ring of hope in our voices as we made our case for such a need, it truly is a testament to what can be accomplished when we’re all working together. It truly is all part of the ‘Dalton difference.’"
Rep. Jason Ridley expressed his gratitude to Governor Kemp and to the Georgia First Committee for their assistance in bringing this much-needed service to the region. “This is another example of Governor Kemp putting Georgians first," said Rep. Ridley. "Having open heart surgery at Hamilton is great for the community and allows people to stay at home with their loved ones.”
Jeff Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Care System, expressed his gratitude to all who have pulled together to bring open heart surgery to the community, and he explained his early vision and the importance of establishing several foundational services that provide the necessary components for or enhance Hamilton’s ability to provide open heart surgery.
“The path to being granted the Certificate of Need to develop an open heart program is not just a Hamilton effort," said Mr. Myers. "This was an effort by the entire community, and everyone really rallied together around treatment for cardiac disease and improving the health of the community – and the Northwest Georgia region. Hamilton’s path to open heart surgery goes back to the very beginning when the hospital first opened in 1921, providing care when it was needed in a region that was underserved. Even in the 1960s when Hamilton was the first hospital in the state of Georgia to open a Medical Intensive Care Unit, it was on the cutting edge of healthcare innovation in Georgia. Now, with the addition of intensivists providing specialized, critical care management in our ICUs, and the addition of advanced technology such as the PrisMax continuous renal therapy system, which we are first in the nation to use, Hamilton continues to lead the way for healthcare in our region.
"For far too long, we have watched our friends, family and loved ones suffer from chronic diseases, especially heart disease. Without this level of care, patients and their families have had to drive often an hour or more for care. Bringing open heart surgery to this region allows patients to not only be close to home, but their physicians are able to better coordinate their care – physicians who know them, who have cared for them, and who know their medical histories. This coordination of care cannot be overstated. It has significant impact on how well a patient recovers after surgery, and it can minimize the occurrence and impact of complications, especially for patients with multiple health conditions, which is common with those suffering from heart disease.
"At the end of the day, we are here to serve our patients and their families. Everything we do is to improve their care and the health and well-being of those we serve. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to serve our community and our region in this new and exciting way.”
According to Sandy McKenzie, executive vice president and chief operating officer, “Now that approval has been granted for the CON, development of the open heart surgery program will involve many stakeholders – patients first and foremost. When we start the program, it will be with the right team, at the right time, at the right place, doing the right things. From day one, from the first surgery, Hamilton will provide the highest quality of cardiac care for our patients and compassionate support for their families and loved ones."
Officials said, with an ever-increasing growth rate of cardiovascular disease in the region, including an extremely high mortality rate for cardiovascular disease that surpasses state and national averages, having this service available in the local community has the potential to save lives and better the health of friends, families and neighbors. Death rates related to heart disease for Hamilton’s service area are 25 percent higher than the national rate and 44 percent higher than the statewide rate. Beyond these numbers, the service area suffers from an extremely high proportion of chronic diseases, many of which lead to heart disease. Also, the population is significantly older than many areas of the state and continues to age at a rate faster than the average for the state of Georgia. Nearly 20 percent of Hamilton’s service area population is expected to be 65 years of age and older by 2022, compared with less than 16 percent for Georgia overall. Combined with the region’s high rate of poverty and a high population of adult, non-Medicare residents who are uninsured, many struggle financially and physically to meet just the basic needs for daily life.
Hamilton’s service area includes more than 400,000 adults, and its service area population of adults 65 years of age and older requires open-heart surgery 2.7 times more frequently than adults ages 15 to 64. The service area population ages 65 and older is projected to grow nearly four times faster than the overall adult population. As a result, an even greater need for open-heart surgery services is expected in future years.