In 2006, CVPH Medical Center opened — to great fanfare and after considerable expense — its open-heart surgery program.
The achievement, which included a new surgical department and two new operating rooms, was a source of great pride for the North Country.
Some excerpts from the hospital’s own “History of Cardiac Care”: “A tremendous investment in cardiac care has paid dividends for the community and Medical Center from the onset.
“Better, more complete facilities for heart care would be hard to find anywhere.
“These facilities, coupled with a talented, dedicated group of physicians, nurses and support staff, have quickly turned heart care at CVPH into the envy of programs across the nation.”
Now, plans are being made to discontinue the CVPH program and consolidate that service at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, which has been CVPH’s heart-surgery mentor since 2011.
It is likely a necessary change, in light of the national trends in health care, but there is no ignoring the loss in prestige from closure of the local program.
It doesn’t mean CVPH won’t do any heart procedures. It will now focus on intervention procedures, such as angioplasties, stents and electrophysiology — services that have been performed here for many years.
CVPH officials say the number of open-heart surgeries here has decreased. The Department of Health wants a hospital offering that surgery to perform at least 100 per year, because the more you do, the better you are at it. Over the last four years, CVPH has performed an average of 125 cardiac surgeries per year, once even hitting 138. But 2013 was going to barely make the required number.
Fletcher Allen and CVPH used to compete for patients on a number of levels. But, in 2012, CVPH became part of Fletcher Allen Partners, which also includes Fletcher Allen, Elizabethtown Community Hospital and Central Vermont Medical Center, with the aim to work as an integrated system.
But the change raised fears that the biggest hospital in the group would take away services and staff.
People who need open-heart surgery will again have to travel. While Burlington is only about 45 minutes away, the trip involves the cost of a ferry ride and the anxiety of traveling back roads through Vermont during the winter.
A lingering question is what happens to CVPH specialists and the staff who were trained for the open-heart surgery program. Cardio-thoracic surgeon Dr. Anne Cahill has been the linchpin of the CVPH program and also an involved community member. She told the Press-Republican she is negotiating with CVPH “on how I can best continue to provide education, wellness and clinical service.”
The North Country can continue to take pride in CVPH’s interventional procedures. Its angioplasty program has ranked among the top 5 percent in the nation the past three years, and 150 to 200 additional cases are expected per year.
Even with the gain of those extra procedures, there is no way to view the loss of the open-heart program as good news for the community. That feather in our cap has been plucked.