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State approves joint cath lab for Niagara Falls

Western New York’s major hospitals will jointly establish a catheterization laboratory in Niagara Falls for minimally invasive heart procedures, putting aside past competitive plans for the service.

The state’s Public Health and Planning Council approved the project Thursday involving Catholic Health, Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center. The Heart Center of Niagara will be at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s downtown Niagara Falls campus.

Hospital officials, who announced the $2.2 million proposal in October, said the catheterization lab will eliminate disparities in the availability of heart care, especially to minorities, low-income residents and individuals with mental health issues and those who are developmentally or intellectually disabled.

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

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure for diagnosing and treating heart conditions in which a tube called a catheter is threaded through blood vessels to provide angiography, stent placement and balloon angioplasty for heart problems. Currently, about 1,900 Niagara County residents undergo cardiac catheterization procedures at Catholic Health’s Heart Center at Mercy Hospital and Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute. The facilities will adopt protocols to transfer emergency and high-risk patients to the Buffalo hospitals for open-heart surgery.

“Having a cardiac catheterization lab here will eliminate existing barriers to cardiac care and provide access to lifesaving diagnostic and therapeutic treatment close to home,” Joseph A. Ruffolo, Memorial president and chief executive, said in a statement.

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 catheterization lab applications with the state in the past few years. The state encouraged the organizations to consider a joint venture. One barrier was overcome when Catholic Health agreed to locate the lab in Niagara Falls rather than Mount St. Mary’s.

“We have to think in a higher level of what is right for the community,” said Joseph McDonald, Catholic Health president and chief executive officer.

That doesn’t mean it was easy for competitors to come together.

“It’s not a miracle but pretty close,” McDonald jokingly said.

He didn’t rule out future collaborations, depending on the success of this one.

The project will be funded by the managing partners, with Kaleida Health, Catholic Health and Niagara Falls Memorial each holding 30 percent ownership, and ECMC a 10 percent interest. Memorial will use a $1.08 million grant from the state Capital Restructuring Finance Program to help buy equipment. Construction is expected to start July 1 and be completed by Feb. 1, 2017.