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Cape decries lack of cardiac care

By Staff | Apr 11, 2009

Some civic groups in Cape Coral are concerned that city residents lack access to emergent cardiac services at Cape Coral Hospital.
Cape Coral Hospital is part of the Lee Memorial Health System — which recently opened the newly renovated Gulf Coast Medical Center last month on Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers — but some Cape residents are concerned that the health system skirts access locally.
Two hospitals — Health Park and Gulf Coast Medical Centers — offer open heart surgery in Lee County. Gulf Coast, a 550,000-square-foot facility with cutting-edge technology, also is designated a Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission.
Ralph LePera, past president of the Cape Coral Civic Association, expressed his concern with how cardiac services at Cape Coral Hospital haven’t been updated since 1990 even though the population has more than doubled. He said the communities of Pine Island and Matlacha should also be concerned.
“They ought to be concerned with the fact that Lee Memorial Health System continues to look at Cape Coral Hospital as a community hospital not capable of taking care of a real emergency when it comes to heart patients,” said LePera.
Overall, Gulf Coast contains 349 rooms as compared to Cape Coral Hospital which has a total of 291. Residents in Cape Coral have access to cardiac catheterization lab — a test used to check blood flow and diagnose heart problems — but to receive heart surgery they have to cross the bridge into Fort Myers.
According to LePera, the county’s Emergency Medical Services department transports all STEMI or stroke patients from Cape Coral over the river to Health Park or Gulf Coast. In the case of a STEMI the EKG administered by a paramedic will show clear changes in a patient’s cardiac functions.
Furthermore, the redirected services, explained to LePera by Fire Department Chief Bill Van Helden, carry an estimated hour-long ride for patients to reach either hospital.
LePera is worried that a longer ambulance ride could affect patient outcome. Out of 17,000 emergency calls taken by the Cape Coral Fire Department last year, 70 percent were medical-related.
Lee Memorial Health System Board Member Marilyn Stout, a Cape resident, said there haven’t been any problems with patients being transported to either Gulf Coast or Health Park.
“We have never had open heart surgery in Cape Coral,” said Stout. “The number of open heart surgeries are decreasing every year.”
To support a functional open heart program a hospital must carry out a specific number of surgeries each year, but with fewer surgeries only a limited number of hospitals are capable of hosting this surgical program, she said.
In 2006 Lee Memorial Health System purchased both Gulf Coast Hospital and Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center from HCA Inc. Before the acquisition, HCA had already contracted with the state to open a heart surgery center to compete with Health Park.
“It takes special operating rooms, special equipment and we already have it at Gulf Coast Medical Center and Health Park,” said Stout.
Ultimately, the health system’s goal is to have one hospital act as the exclusive open heart center in Lee County and, according to Stout, that will most likely be Health Park.
Cape Coral Hospital is in the process of renovating its emergency room and it will begin to receive overflow patients from the neonatal unit at The Children’s Hospital later this year.
The local hospital may also be tapped to administer angioplasties — a process of widening a obstructed blood vessel — but health officials are hesitant to perform this procedure without a fully functioning open heart program nearby.
Health Park and Gulf Coast are only six miles apart and centrally located within the county, but they’re the only hospitals for residents of south Lee County. Other than NCH facilities in Collier County these residents have no other option.
“Demographics will tell you that you’ll have more procedures coming from south Lee County,” she said.
The Cape Coral Civic Association is holding a meeting on April 28 from 7-9 p.m. to express its concerns over the hospital. LePera stated that the issue was originally raised two years ago.
Civic meetings are open to the public. The organization meets at the Cape Coral Yacht Club on Driftwood Parkway.