As reported by the Republican-American, January 22, 2009.

State Has Heart for Waterbury Center

By Marc Silvestrini

The commissioner of the state Office of Health Care Access formally signed a notice of final decision on Wednesday granting the Heart Center of Greater Waterbury a permanent operating license.

OHCA Commissioner Cristine A. Vogel's signature on the document means the heart center can permanently continue operating under its present "one program-two campus" structure, said Loraine C. Shea, the heart center's executive director.

The approved document contains none of the specific volume benchmarks contained in the center's original three-year approval, Shea said. It does require the heart center to continue reporting its quality data directly to OHCA, and calls for heart center administrators to meet with Vogel and her staff at least twice a year to discuss the center's progress.

Vogel was not available for comment late Wednesday. She had issued a draft of the final agreement last Thursday. It was signed by the three hospitals that operate the heart center and was returned to her office on Friday to await her final signature.

"Being granted permanent status is great news for our community," Shea said. "We appreciate the time and effort ... Vogel and the OHCA staff put into this process.

"It is clear through this decision that OHCA understands the importance of these services in our community," Shea said. "It has been a long process for everyone involved, and we are grateful to have reached such a positive outcome."

The heart center is an advanced cardiac care program at both Saint Mary's and Waterbury hospitals that offers Greater Waterbury residents immediate access to a complete range of cardiac services, including angioplasty and open-heart surgery. Since opening in 2005, the center has performed 2,238 angioplasties, including more than 300 emergency procedures on patients suffering acute cardiac events, and 735 open heart procedures.

OHCA originally approved the heart center as a three-year demonstration project in July 2004. The trial period began when the center opened in July 2005 and was due to expire last summer, but Vogel granted the three hospitals that operate the heart center — Saint Mary's and Waterbury hospitals and the University of Connecticut Health Center/John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington — a temporary, six-month extension that was due to expire on Monday.

During the six-month extension period, heart center officials filed a Certificate of Need application with OHCA seeking permanent status for the program.

Shea said she was extremely pleased with the final outcome of the application and said she would long remember the support the heart center received from physicians, elected officials, former patients and members of the community at large during the lengthy process.

"We received overwhelming support for the continuation of this program, and to the thousands and thousands of people who were so vocal in their support of the heart center, we offer our sincerest heartfelt thanks," she said.