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Hospitals agree to cooperate on Niagara Falls cath lab

Western New York’s major hospitals, putting aside competition on one front, announced Friday that they want to jointly establish a catheterization laboratory in Niagara Falls for minimally invasive heart procedures.

Catholic Health, Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center are seeking state approval to open a cardiac catheterization laboratory at the Heart Center of Niagara at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s downtown Niagara Falls campus.

It is believed to be the first time in the state that four distinct hospital systems have agreed to such a collaboration, according to officials.

“This plan effectively and collaboratively addresses the longstanding question of who should provide cardiac catheterization and interventional coronary care services to Niagara County residents,” Joseph A. Ruffolo, president and chief executive officer of Memorial Medical, said in a statement.

The laboratory will eliminate disparities in the heart care available to African-Americans, Native Americans, residents of low-income households, people challenged by mental health issues and those who are developmentally or intellectually disabled, he said.

The plan calls for ECMC to decertify one of its existing cardiac cath labs and transfer the license to the joint venture. That transfer and the establishment of the cath lab in Niagara Falls require state Health Department approval. The cath lab will operate 24 hours a day in a county that suffers from a high rate of heart disease.

Kaleida Health, Niagara Falls Memorial and Mount St. Mary’s Hospital and Health Center in Lewiston, which became a Catholic Health site in July, had filed separate cath lab applications with the state in the past few years. In reviewing those applications, the state encouraged the organizations to consider a joint venture.

“We essentially all wanted the same thing – to make cardiac catheterization services more convenient and accessible for the residents of Niagara County, and to do it in the most cost-effective way possible,” said Joseph McDonald, Catholic Health president and chief executive officer.

McDonald said the institutions “parked their egos” and “did what was right for the community.”

In addition, they settled a debate in Niagara County over where such a service should be located – in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical or Mount St. Mary’s.

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure for diagnosing and treating heart conditions in which a long, thin tube called a catheter is inserted in an artery or vein in a patient’s groin, neck or arm and threaded through the blood vessels to the heart. The proposed Niagara County cath lab will provide angiography, stent placement and balloon angioplasty.

The projected cost for constructing and equipping the new 4,145-square-foot facility is $2.2 million and will be borne by all the partners. Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has applied for $1.1 million in state funding to offset that cost.

Currently, about 1,900 Niagara County residents undergo cardiac angiography and other cardiac catheterization procedures in Erie County hospitals, The Niagara cath lab is projected to serve 925 patients in its first year of operation, with the number expected to increase to 1,100 patients in the second and third years of operation.

Kaleida Health, Niagara Falls Memorial, Catholic Health and ECMC will all participate in the cath lab’s operation, officials said. They will appoint members to a clinical committee to manage the day-to-day operations and a management committee to oversee financial operations. The group also will recruit a medical director for the program and other physicians from the partner hospitals, they said.

Among other things, the parties have worked out protocols for handling emergency cases and transferring higher-risk patients to larger hospitals in Buffalo that can backup a cath lab with open-heart surgery programs, McDonald said.

Officials foresee state approval in the next few months. After that, it would take about nine months to complete renovations for the facility.