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Chest Pain Center accreditation!

chest pain center4/15/15 — St. Mary’s Health Care System has received full accreditation as a chest pain center with PCI – the technical term for emergency balloon angioplasty and stent implantation – from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care (SCPC).

“This accreditation demonstrates that St. Mary’s heart care program meets the highest standards in the nation,” said Don McKenna, St. Mary’s President and CEO. “This recognition is possible because of the tremendous dedication to excellence and teamwork demonstrated by our medical staff, hospital staff and EMS partners all across our continuum of care.”

In order to achieve accreditation as a chest pain center, SCPC required St. Mary’s to demonstrate expertise and commitment to quality patient care. Accredited centers must meet or exceed a rigorous set of criteria and undergo an onsite review by a team of SCPC’s accreditation review specialists, which took place at St. Mary’s on March 19.

Key areas in which an Accredited Chest Pain Center must demonstrate expertise include the following:
•Integrating the emergency department with the local emergency medical system
•Assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients quickly
•Effectively treating patients with low risk for acute coronary syndrome and no assignable cause for their symptoms
•Continually seeking to improve processes and procedures
•Ensuring the competence and training of Accredited Chest Pain Center personnel
•Maintaining organizational structure and commitment
•Having a functional design that promotes optimal patient care
•Supporting community outreach programs that educate the public to promptly seek medical care if they display symptoms of a possible 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,” said John Layher, M.D., co-founder of Oconee Heart and Vascular Center. “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.”

To implement best practices and prepare for accreditation, St. Mary’s brought together a multidisciplinary team in January 2014. The team included representatives from the emergency department, cardiology, cath lab, radiology, laboratory, quality, education, inpatient nursing units and National EMS.

“It is an amazing team,” said Darlene Morocco, R.N., chair of the committee and director of St. Mary’s Critical Care Services and Cardiac Catheterization and Electrophysiology Laboratory. “Everyone brought not only their expertise to the table but also a very real commitment to making sure St. Mary’s provides the highest level of care possible to our patients.”

“Top-quality emergency care begins the moment EMS arrives on the scene,” said Lewis Earnest, M.D., 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.”

In the ambulance, EMS personnel assess the patient, administer medication, and take an EKG, a non-invasive test that measures the electrical signals that cause the heart to beat. They then transmit findings to St. Mary’s Emergency Department, where doctors and nurses begin preparing for the patient even before he or she arrives. In many cases, the patient goes directly to the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, Dr. Earnest said, saving valuable time.

“Our PCI team is available within 30 minutes or less, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays,” said Clay Chappell, M.D., an interventional cardiologist and medical director of St. Mary’s cath lab. “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.”

Cardiac catheterization restores blood flow by finding the blockage inside a coronary artery that is causing the heart attack. Using a thin, flexible tube called a catheter, the cardiologist reopens the blocked vessel with a tiny balloon and then implants a drug-coated metal stent to keep the vessel open. The procedure, called percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI, is the gold-standard for treatment of heart attacks.

In addition to emergency care, St. Mary’s offers a wide range of services for patients with chest pain. Highlights include:
•Early Heart Attack Care education: Informing the community about early warning signs of heart attack so that people will know when to call 911.
•Intensive care and step-down care: providing round-the-clock inpatient care at St. Mary’s Hospital following a cardiac event or procedure.
•Cardiac imaging and diagnostics: providing vital information to diagnose heart problems, including cardiac MRI, CT scanning, nuclear medicine, echocardiography and exercise stress testing.
•Cardiac Rehabilitation: providing education and exercise in a three-phase program that improves quality of life while reducing the risk of another cardiac event.
•Device implantation and follow-up: implanting and monitoring state-of-the-art cardiac monitors, defibrillators and pacemakers.
•Heart failure care: providing a comprehensive line of services for patients with weakened hearts, including lifestyle improvement, education, device therapy and in-home monitoring.
•Electrophysiology: diagnosing and treating the causes of abnormal heart rhythms.
•Cardiology services: providing lifelong cardiac care with nine cardiologists and other cardiac professional at two practices with multiple locations across Northeast Georgia: Oconee Heart and Vascular Center and Northeast Cardiology.

Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the United States, with 600,000 people dying annually of heart disease. More than 5 million Americans visit hospitals each year with chest pain. SCPC’s goal is to significantly reduce the mortality rate of these patients by teaching the public to recognize and react to the early symptoms of a possible heart attack, reduce the time that it takes to receive treatment, and increase the accuracy and effectiveness of treatment.

Each Accredited Chest Pain Center’s protocol-driven and systematic approach to patient management allows physicians to reduce time to treatment during the critical early stages of a heart attack, when treatments are most effective, and to better monitor patients when it is not clear whether or not they are having a coronary event. Such observation helps ensure that patients are treated appropriately.

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 we serve. Sponsored by Catholic Health Ministries and 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. The system includes St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital in Greene County, Highland Hills Village retirement community, home health care/hospice services, plus high quality outpatient facilities and St. Mary’s Medical Group. St. Mary’s has earned numerous recognitions from Women Certified, as well as the Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval in five specialty areas, including heart failure care. For more information, visit St. Mary’s website at

About the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care
The Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care (SCPC) is an international not-for-profit organization that focuses on transforming cardiovascular care by assisting facilities in their effort to create communities of excellence that bring together quality, cost and patient satisfaction. As the only cross-specialty organization, SCPC provides the support needed for individual hospitals and hospital systems to effectively bridge existing gaps in treatment by providing the tools, education and support necessary to successfully navigate the changing face of healthcare. For more information on SCPC, accreditation and certification opportunities, visit, or call toll free 1-877-271-4176.