BEMIDJI – Sanford Bemidji Medical Center is within weeks of offering cardiac care around the clock.
The hospital is set to open its new cardiology suite Jan. 4, at which time interventional cardiology will be offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Cardiology currently is sharing a cardiovascular lab. Cardiology now has access to the lab Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Fridays, depending on scheduling needs.
“Right now we have the lab three days a week,” said Dr. Nur Jameel, an interventional cardiologist who joined Sanford Bemidji in late August. “Once we have our dedicated cardiac lab, we will be able to use it 24/7.”
Construction on the 6,450-square-foot Heart & Vascular Center began in September; Kraus-Anderson was the general contractor. When open, the center will boast a dedicated catheterization lab, six beds for prep and recovery, five clinic exam rooms, two diagnostic testing rooms, a diagnostic reading room, a patient-education suite, work stations for physicians and a registration and scheduling lobby.
Cardiology will immediately be available at all times for local patients. In time, it will expand to take in emergency cardiac patients from the region, such as Park Rapids and Grand Rapids.
“We want to transition into the new lab and get personnel used to the new area before we start accepting emergent cases,” Jameel said.
Cardiology now has 15 employees, including three physicians: Jameel, Dr. Jeffrey Watkins, an interventional cardiologist hired in January 2011, and Dr. Kris Anderson, an internist/non-invasive cardiologist who joined the hospital in 1995. A fourth physician, Dr. Jim Dewar, an interventional cardiologist, is expected to come to Bemidji next fall.
Watkins performed the hospital’s first cardiac catheterizations in October 2011, when Sanford Bemidji enacted plans to increase cardiac services.
He reported that more than 400 cardiac procedures have been performed at Sanford Bemidji since catheterizations were first offered.
He predicted this fall that as many as 1,000 procedures could be done a year in Bemidji.
In a presentation to hospital staff in October, Watkins said 83 percent of the procedures done in Bemidji involved patients who were not referred to Fargo, N.D., for further treatment.
At the time, he described treating a diabetic patient in his 50s who had chest pain and other associated symptoms. While performing an angiogram, the doctor discovered a tightened artery, so a stent was placed.
“The patient has been completely free of symptoms since,” Watkins said.
Already, Sanford Bemidji offers cardiac outreach services in Baudette and Thief River Falls. Once the department is fully functional, emergency-care services will be expanded to serve the greater region, including those two areas.
“Our goal is to become a center for anyone within an hour or an hour and a half,” Watkins said in October. “Our goal is to try to keep as many (patients) here as we can.”
Generally, doctors said, patients are pleased to have procedures available in Bemidji, saving them a likely trip to Fargo for treatment.
“Most people would prefer to have it done in a local setting,” Anderson said.
Still, some are unaware of the expanse of cardiac services available locally.
“I still see a lot of patients, when I say, ‘Oh yeah, we can do it right here,’ who are still a little surprised,” Jameel said.
Emergency cardiac services will be offered within months of the new lab’s opening, Watkins said.
“We look forward to expanding but we don’t want to do it before anyone is ready,” Watkins said.
In select cases, emergency care already is being provided, but due to lab availability and the complexity of some cases, it is not always possible.
Four patients recently sought help through the Bemidji emergency room for acute heart attacks. Watkins was able to take care of two of them as it happened to be a day he had access to the cardiovascular lab.
“I know we’re capable of doing it,” Watkins said of emergency care.
Sanford Bemidji will host weekly seminars on heart and vascular health through Dec. 18.
On Tuesday, Drs. Jeffrey Watkins and Nur Jameel, interventional cardiologists, will discuss Bemidji cardiology.
On Dec. 18, Drs. Kevin Schoepel and James Wagner, vascular surgeons, will discuss peripheral diseases and heart disease.
Seminars begin at 5 p.m. in the education center at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. Heart-healthy appetizers are available beginning at 4:30 p.m. and construction tours of the new Heart and Vascular Center will follow the presentations.
The seminars are free and open to the public, though registration is required by calling 333-5505.