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Hospital pumped as heart center nears

By this time next year, Citrus Memorial will be able to provide cardiac surgery that patients now have to travel for.

By LOGAN NEILL
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


INVERNESS -- The steel skeleton rising above the northern side of Citrus Memorial Hospital stands as the most obvious, tangible evidence that the clock has begun ticking on the facility's new open heart surgery program.

Plans indicate that by this time next year, the first patient already will have been wheeled into a state-of-the-art surgery suite to undergo the kind of delicate surgery that the hospital was never before able to provide.

"It's like a dream come true for our community," said Citrus Memorial chief operating officer Dwight Bruining. "Having this capability will raise the hospital to a new level."

The $22.2-million expansion will take the hospital well outside its present bounds by allowing it to offer cardiac services that patients traditionally have undergone elsewhere.

Besides open heart procedures such as bypass and valve replacement surgeries, doctors will be able to perform invasive corrective procedures such as angioplasty and cardiac arterial stent placement once the new unit is up and running.

Getting to this point was a somewhat bumpy road for the 46-year-old hospital. Soon after it won state approval in 2000 to build the unit, the hospital became embroiled in a legal challenge with another community hospital in Hernando County, which also had plans for an open heart program.

The last hurdle was cleared in June when Brooksville Regional Hospital dropped its appeal.

With construction less than a year away from completion, thoughts have turned to other pressing challenges: the equipping and staffing of the new facility.

According to Bruining, the hospital already has reached an agreement with the Ocala Heart Institute, which will rotate surgeons and anesthesiologists from its existing staff. In addition, the hospital will need between 20 and 25 new employees as support personnel, including critical care nurses, medical technicians and post-operation therapists. Bruining said finding them shouldn't be much of a problem.

"We're in an area that's attractive to many people, and having an open heart program will bring us to their attention," said Bruining.

The hospital's 61,000-square-foot expansion will occupy much of the two top floors in the northernmost wing of the hospital. In addition to two open heart surgical suites, the hospital plans to relocate its present catheterization lab and also will build a new one. The surrounding area will also include preparation rooms and short-stay units for patients whose more minor corrective procedures will allow them to go home the same day.

In addition, the hospital is expanding its cardiac rehabilitation unit, which is housed in a nearby building.

"We want to make everything as convenient to our patients and their families as possible," offered Bruning.

The entire project, which is being financed by a 30-year, $44.5-million bond issue, is expected to generate substantial revenue for the hospital. Bruining estimates that once the unit is up and running, the facility could see as many as 300 open heart surgeries and 400 angioplasties a year -- procedures for which most patients now travel to Ocala.

Although the short-term advantages will be quickly noticeable, Bruining thinks the new unit could be a precursor for exciting possibilities. Traditionally, he said, hospitals with open heart programs often attract other specialties as well, including neurosurgery.

"We're heading into a brand-new era that's going to be of a great benefit to the community as it grows," said Bruining. "It's not hard to imagine that someday this community hospital will become one of the region's most respected medical centers."

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