Kitchener's St. Mary's Hospital expanding cardiac care to help rural patients

St. Mary's Hospital in Kitchener has created a strategic plan to improve cardiac care services here while also reaching out to hospitals in rural areas to help improve care there.

Patients in region deserve same level of care people in Hamilton and London get, doctor says

St. Mary's Hospital in Kitchener has created a new strategic plan for cardiac care in Waterloo region and into southern Ontario. (Brian St. Denis/CBC)

Improved care for cardiac patients, even if they're not in Kitchener, is part of a new strategic plan from St. Mary's Hospital.

The hospital is one of the top three in the country in terms of patient outcomes and is developing a regional cardiac program.

They want to ensure patients with cardiac problems who show up at hospitals in Guelph, Fergus or Hanover get the same level of care they'd get if they walked into the emergency department at St. Mary's, according to Dr. Brian McNamara, chief of cardiovascular services at St. Mary's and Grand River Hospital.

"Even something simple, for example, as getting an ECG from a small hospital emergency room to the cardiologist on call at St. Mary's does provide some technical hurdles," he said.

"We want to eliminate those barriers to ensure that patients in remote areas can have at least some type of access to the specialist in anticipation of coming down to St. Mary's for more advanced care."

Gaps in technology hospital needs

St. Mary's new strategic plan also outlines where they want to take care in the hospital itself moving forward.

Right now, the hospital does a number of procedures, among them cardiac surgery, angioplasty and pacemaker insertions.

But McNamara said the way surgeries are done has evolved over the last 15 years, and St. Mary's hasn't always been able to keep up with the changes.

There are gaps in technology the hospital needs access to, such as minimally invasive cardiac surgery.

As an example, he noted percutaneous aortic valves replacements could be done less invasively at St. Mary's.

"At present, some patients are elderly and too fragile to undergo an open-heart operation, and there's new technologies available that are much easier to recover from for elderly and frail patients to replace their values without opening up their chests," he said.

The hospital is also on the cusp of building an electrophysiology lab to treat complex rhythm disorders, McNamara said.

The hospital hopes to start doing percutaneous aortic valve replacements this fall and have the electrophysiology lab running next year.

Confident plans will go forward despite election

Funding is always an issue for hospitals, and despite a looming provincial election that could change the political landscape in Ontario, McNamara is confident their plans will move forward.

Both the board of St. Mary's and local LHIN have approved the strategic plan.

Staff members are fully on board and eager to be trained, McNamara said.

"We feel that the patients in this region deserve the same level of care that people in Hamilton and London get, and we feel that anything less than that is really substandard," McNamara said. "It's important patients be able to get that kind of care locally."

Listen to the whole interview with Dr. Bryan McNamara: