LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The University of Kentucky said Tuesday its Gill Heart Institute will team with a group of hospitals and doctors to provide care for heart patients in eastern Kentucky.
The goal is to keep more patients closer to home for treatment in a region plagued by some of the nation's highest rates of heart disease.
Bolstering heart care in Kentucky's Appalachian region will mean fewer patients being transported by helicopter or ambulance to the UK Hospital in Lexington for emergency treatment, said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK's executive vice president of health affairs.
"If you're somebody who's having a heart attack and you need either a bypass or an angioplasty, minutes are incredibly important in protecting heart muscle," Karpf said by phone. "So now people will be able to get to the next level real quickly and efficiently."
UK's Gill Heart Institute will work with Appalachian Regional Healthcare and Appalachian Heart Center on the initiative. UK is hiring more cardiologists and will assess the region's needs for more heart specialists and surgeons, Karpf said.
He predicted that hundreds of heart patients each year in the region will benefit from the collaboration.
"The whole premise is based on value, improving outcomes and doing it in a cost-sensitive kind of way," Karpf said.
Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center will become a hub for heart surgeries in eastern Kentucky, though the most complex procedures will still be done in Lexington, he said. Dr. Edward Setser, a UK surgeon, began performing such cardiac procedures as heart valve replacements in Hazard in 2011.
AHC cardiologists will join the UK cardiology team providing services in Hazard.
Setser said the result will be "a new level of services and care" to cardiology patients in the region.
Also, UK HealthCare and ARH agreed to jointly manage cardiovascular services at Hazard ARH and five other ARH hospitals in eastern Kentucky.
The collaboration is an effort "to improve lives in a region where patients suffer from some of the highest rates of mortality in the nation from heart disease and stroke," said Joe Grossman, president and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare.
The agreement also includes Harlan ARH Hospital, Whitesburg ARH Hospital, McDowell ARH Hospital, Mary Breckinridge ARH Hospital and Williamson ARH Hospital.
Karpf says those hospitals will perform cardiac tests and make referrals for surgeries that are performed in Hazard or Lexington.
"It maximizes locally what should be done locally, and makes sure it's of the highest quality, and makes sure that referrals to the next level are smooth, efficient and expeditious," Karpf said.
The Appalachian Heart Center has clinics in Hazard, Harlan, Hyden and Cumberland.
Karpf predicted that UK is likely to become involved in similar collaborations to combat the region's high cancer rates.
The UK Markey Cancer Center in Lexington recently won designation as a National Cancer Institute facility. The title brings with it the potential for millions of dollars in additional research funding and means patients will have access to new drugs, treatment options and clinical trials offered only at NCI centers.