Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Mercy’s new Spanos Heart Center means more room for healing

Mercy General Hospital will draw families securely into the patient care team with the opening of the Alex G. Spanos Heart & Vascular Center, and it will give the medical team the space it needs to operate a very busy cardiac-care unit.

“We have family areas in each room of this entire tower, so if you walk into the room there, you can see pillows,” said Roberta Stewart, a registered nurse who is one of the educators familiarizing employees with the building. “They can sleep and stay rather than waiting in the waiting rooms. That’s in every floor throughout the entire building.”

Yes, that includes the cardiac surgery intensive care unit, where 20 beds have been set aside for patients. In a nod to the nation’s increasingly obese population, the hospital also has built bariatric rooms with wider doors and ceiling lifts.

Stewart and her colleague Susan Croopnick have put 850 staff members through orientations, but on a recent Bee tour, they let Mercy General CEO Edmundo Castañeda take the lead along with Dr. Michael Chang, the medical director of cardiovascular services, and Dr. Allen Morris, the cardiovascular surgery director.

Still, Stewart stuck around just in case anybody got lost. With four floors and 123,000 square feet, the $170 million addition is still a bit of a maze.

The lobby of the Spanos Heart Center now will serve as the main lobby for the whole hospital, Castaneda said, although the current entrance will remain open. The Spanos lobby is bathed in light from floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on a healing garden.

Private patient consultation rooms are on the lobby floor, along with a large new chapel and a cardiac rehabilitation unit.

“This is used when patients have already had a procedure, usually a cardiac surgery,” Chang said, “and it helps them get back to their normal level of activity.”

Morris added: “I have patients that had surgery 10 years ago, and they still come here three times a month because they love it.”

Chang and Morris are something of a tag-team as they share information about their new home and in their professional lives. Morris is a heart surgeon, while Chang is a cardiologist who offers less-invasive procedures such as sending balloons through arteries and sometimes into the heart. The two professions are as complementary as the left and right ventricles, yet surgeons and cardiologists haven’t always played well together. Chang and Morris said the day has come when old rivalries must be put in the past.

“You have to come to the decision on what’s best for the patient,” Chang said. It’s not whether they have surgery or whether they have interventional cardiology. We work together to decide what’s best for the patient, and then when we actually do the procedure, the two surgeons and the two cardiologists really have to get along. That’s not easy to do. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone thinks they’re right.”

Morris said: “When you approach patients, you’ve got to give them options. They’re savvy enough. They go to the Internet. They know that these options are available. It’s ridiculous to try to dictate to patients what we think would be the best strategy. They come to us looking for advice, but they come educated.”

The new heart center encourages and enhances their ability to work as a team with patients and in operating rooms, the two doctors said. It has four operating rooms and an innovative hybrid OR where both cardiologists and heart surgeons perform procedures such as the transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR. In this surgery, doctors go in and replace leaky or tight heart valves, but they don’t cut a hole in the sternum to do it. Instead, they attach the valve to a balloon, make a tiny incision in the leg or chest and thread the valve through an artery and into place. It’s typically used only with patients too weak for open-heart surgery.

As Chang and Morris stand in one of the four new operating rooms on the second floor, they talk about the crucial difference the expanded space will make.

“Our program here in California, in Sacramento here, for many, many years and until even this year was the busiest program in the state of California for adults receiving open-heart surgeries,” Chang said. “So we, at our peak, were doing 2,200 cases a year out of three ORs. This is the kind of place that just facilitates our ability to do that in every way for our personnel involved in the care, for our personnel to transfer patients and clean the rooms.”

Despite the heavy volume, Chang added, patient outcomes are better than the national average. Mercy General has been designated as a top cardiovascular hospital by the independent Truven Health Analytics. The new Spanos Heart Center with its 71 private patient rooms, 20-bed cardiac ICU and 21-bed amubulatory unit is scheduled to start taking patients in late April.