A Heartbeat Away from Award-winning Care

When a person experiences a heart attack or an acute myocardial infarction, blood flow to the heart suddenly becomes blocked and the heart cannot get enough oxygen. Within a very short period of time, heart muscle cells can die causing permanent damage. That’s why time is muscle.

Angioplasty is a procedure that can immediately restore blood flow to the heart. Seven years ago, patients who arrived at the former Washington County Hospital with heart attack symptoms were transported by ambulance or helicopter to hospitals in Baltimore or the Washington, D.C. area for cardiac care. The recommended 90 minutes or less to treat a heart attack and decrease the likelihood of damage to the heart was often not achieved.

“Hours were lost from the time the patient presented with heart attack symptoms, to the OK from the receiving hospital to accept the patient, to transporting the patient,” says James Recabo, RN, clinical manager of Meritus Medical Center’s cardiac catheterization lab.

In 2008, Meritus Medical Center received approval to perform elective and emergency angioplasties and began to offer cardiac interventions 24/7. Between 2008 and late 2014, 10,000 diagnostic catheterizations have been performed at the original catheterization lab at Washington County Hospital and Meritus Medical Center’s cath lab.

“It’s a remarkable number,” says Payam Fallahi. M.D., Hagerstown Heart. “We have a large population that is at risk for heart disease.” Dr. Fallahi notes that patients come for treatment from Washington County, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

Meritus Medical Center was recently recognized as a recipient of the 2015 Mission: Lifeline® Bronze-Plus award, a program created by the American Heart Association to help ensure prompt, evidence-based care for heart attack patients. To qualify for the award, the cath lab had to meet an 85 percent or greater composite score including ≤ 90 minutes “door-to-device” time as well as medication and patient care guidelines.

The heart team

“There are different grades of heart attacks,” explains Dr. Fallahi. Severe heart attack patients, or STEMIs, are fast-tracked to the hospital’s cath lab where patients undergo an emergency angioplasty. Meritus Medical Center aims to treat patients within 90 minutes of the first sign of a heart attack as indicated on an EKG. On average, the hospital treats heart attack patients within 70 minutes—well below industry guidelines.

Successfully treating heart attack patients requires a team effort. People with heart attack symptoms must call 911 immediately. When EMS arrive at the scene, they perform an EKG on the patient and transmit cardiac data to Meritus Medical Center’s emergency department using LIFENET, a technology that allows emergency room physicians to see EKG data from the field. Upon receipt of the patient’s cardiac data, the emergency department notifies the cardiac catheterization team.