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St. Mary’s again receives full accreditation for heart attack care

St. Mary’s Health Care System has again received full accreditation as a Chest Pain Center with primary PCI from the American College of Cardiology (ACC). PCI is the technical term for emergency heart attack care with balloon angioplasty and stent implantation.

Chest Pain Center“This accreditation demonstrates that St. Mary’s heart care program continues to meet the highest standards for heart care in the nation,” said Montez Carter, St. Mary’s President and CEO. “This recognition is possible because of the tremendous ongoing dedication to excellence and teamwork demonstrated by our medical staff, hospital staff and our partners in EMS.”

PCI is percutaneous coronary intervention. It’s a life-saving procedure that can reopen the clogged blood vessel that is causing a heart attack. A thin, flexible tube called a catheter is guided through blood vessels from the leg or wrist into the heart. The cardiologist uses the catheter to deploy a tiny balloon that pushes aside the cholesterol and inflamed tissues blocking the blood vessel. Then a medicated stent, a device similar to a tiny chain-link spring, is inserted to keep the artery open.

“Our PCI team is available within 30 minutes or less, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays,” said Clay Chappell, MD, medical director of St. Mary’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. “By quickly restoring blood flow to the affected coronary artery, we are able to save lives, minimize damage to the heart, and preserve the maximum possible level of function and quality of life.”

According to the ACC, hospitals that have earned Chest Pain Center with primary PCI accreditation have demonstrated exceptional competency in treating patients with heart attack symptoms and have primary PCI available 24/7 every day of the year. As required to meet the criteria of the accreditation designation, they have streamlined their systems from admission all the way through to post-discharge care, including recommendations and assistance in patient lifestyle changes. In addition, accredited hospitals have formal agreements with other facilities that regularly refer heart attack patients to their facility for primary PCI.

Commitment to excellence

“St. Mary’s has demonstrated its commitment to providing Northeast Georgia with excellent heart care,” said Phillip D. Levy, MD, FACC, chair of the ACC Accreditation Management Board. “ACC Accreditation Services is proud to award St. Mary’s with Chest Pain Center with Primary PCI Accreditation.”

Hospitals receiving this accreditation must take part in processes that involve a rigorous onsite review, gap analysis, and action planning for continuous improvement. Strategies for continuous improvement include implementing guidelines and standards as they are recommended at the national level and adopting best practices in the care of patients with signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

“Quality heart care requires the integration of the emergency department with EMS, as well as the close collaboration of departments across our entire continuum of care,” Dr. Chappell said. “In a cardiac emergency, time is muscle, so every minute matters. Through our collaborative efforts, we routinely do better than the national recommendations. That’s a real accomplishment and something we are very proud of.”

“Top-quality emergency care begins the moment EMS arrives on the scene,” said Lewis Earnest, MD, medical director of St. Mary’s Emergency Department. “We could not have achieved this accreditation without the active involvement of Robby Atkins of National EMS and the hard work – day-in and day-out – of personnel from all of our area EMS providers. They are on the front lines. We urge everyone who might be having a heart attack to call 911 immediately.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 730,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year. The most common symptom for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort. Other heart attack symptoms may include tingling or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulder, neck or jaw; shortness of breath; cold sweat; unusual tiredness; heartburn-like feeling; nausea or vomiting; sudden dizziness and fainting. Women are more likely than men to have atypical symptoms.

As required by the ACC for Chest Pain Center accreditation, St. Mary’s offers a continuum of services before, during and after discharge for chest pain, including:

  • Early Heart Attack Care education to inform the community about early warning signs of heart attack.
  • Intensive care and step-down care with round-the-clock inpatient care at St. Mary’s Hospital.
  • Cardiac imaging and diagnostics to provide vital information for diagnosing heart problems, including cardiac MRI, CT scanning, nuclear medicine, echocardiography and stress testing.
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation with education and exercise to improve quality of life and reduce the risk of another cardiac event.
  • Device implantation and follow-up, including cardiac monitors, defibrillators and pacemakers.
  • Heart failure care, including lifestyle improvement, education, device therapy and in-home monitoring, for patients with weakened hearts.
  • Electrophysiology to diagnose and treat the causes of abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Cardiology services to provide outpatient lifelong cardiac care through Oconee Heart and Vascular Center and Northeast Cardiology, with office locations in Athens, Oconee, Greensboro, Monroe and Lavonia.


About St. Mary’s Health Care System

St. Mary’s Health Care System is a faith-based, not-for-profit health care ministry whose mission is to be a compassionate and transforming healing presence in the communities its serves. Part of the Trinity Health nationwide system of care, St. Mary’s puts special focus on cardiac care, neurosciences, orthopedics, general surgery, women’s and children’s health, and gastroenterology. St. Mary’s was recently named 2018 Large Hospital of the Year by the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals. For more information, visit St. Mary’s website at


About the American College of Cardiology

The American College of Cardiology is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the college and its more than 52,000 members is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The college operates national registries to measure and improve care, offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research, and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more information about ACC Accreditation Services, visit or call 1-877-271-4176.