Health Care and Technology

Indy heart care offerings expand once again: St. Francis polishes cardiac and vascular center

January 24, 2005

Furniture movers and technology testers have taken center stage as St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers prepares to become the latest Indianapolis provider to flex its cardiac care muscle.

On March 1, St. Francis will accept the first patient for a $70 million Cardiac Vascular Care Center addition to its south campus. The new center will include an operating room with the latest electronic connections to patient information among other selling points.

One item it won't provide is a conclusive answer to the lingering debate about cardiovascular care in Indianapolis.

One side believes there may be too much of it. Adherents worry about dilution of care and wonder where all the patients will come from to fill the new beds.

Others note that the construction boom over the past four years led mostly to a consolidation of beds, not an expansion. They also say the poor health of Indiana residents will yield plenty of patients.

Clarian Health Partners started the growth spurt in 2001 when it opened a cardiovascular center attached to its Methodist Hospital downtown. That center boasted a combination of Indiana University School of Medicine resources with Methodist's clinical care practices and programs.

Clarian includes Riley Hospital for Children, and Methodist and IU hospitals.

In December 2002, The Heart Center of Indiana became the city's first stand-alone heart hospital. The 60-bed hospital features all-digital record keeping.

The Indiana Heart Hospital opened in early 2003 on Community Health Network's north campus. The city's second stand-alone heart hospital contains 650 computer workstations.

St. Francis will add a 107-bed expansion to this market. The new center features "total OR," which connects information systems directly to where the surgeon stands.

Tom Malasto, executive director of the St. Francis center, said his center fills a need for full-service care on the south side.

"We think it's necessary to keep health care at the local level, which is what people want," he said.

However, Clarian CEO Dan Evans sees little unmet need left in Indianapolis.

"There is no doubt there is plenty of cardiology in central Indiana," he said. "I personally don't believe there are enough patients to support the number of heart programs there are and support all of their particular business plans."

Evans added that he doesn't know if the building boom will spur an increase in use for these centers.

Researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Studying Health System Change share that concern. They've published several studies on Indianapolis.

"There are real questions in Indy about, given the state of building, is that market going to end up overbuilt?" spokeswoman Alwyn Cassil said. "You don't know until down the road."

The people behind these cardiovascular expansions see little chance of the market's becoming overbuilt. They cite consolidation as the main reason.

Malasto noted that St. Francis moved most of its cardiology work from the Beech Grove hospital to the new center, which includes a top floor devoted to services outside that cardiovascular care.

Clarian reported adding 167 beds with its cardiovascular center, but the net gain amounted to 30 to 50 beds. Community saw a net gain of 25 beds when the Indiana Heart Hospital opened, said hospital CEO Dave Veillette. The network consolidated cardiology at its north and east campuses into the new hospital.

Veillette and others believe plenty of business is on the way. Patient volume will rise as the baby boom generation ages. Indiana's population also ranks high in smoking and obesity.

"Both obesity and smoking are now tied for the leading causes of heart disease," he said. "The business is there."

Malasto agrees. "I think the programs in this community all will likely survive. Unfortunately, one primary reason is how unhealthy a state we are," he said.
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