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Maintaining a Pulse

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  • | 7:19 a.m. April 1, 2011
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Facility. Pepin Heart Hospital, Tampa
Specialization. Cardiovascular procedures and research
Key. Finding new ways to provide second chances

Five years ago, Pepin Heart Hospital opened in north Tampa with specific goals in terms of clinical, administrative and educational objectives. Through various changes including ownership of its parent, the facility is meeting those objectives while gaining patients, revenue and national recognition as cardiovascular care provider.

At a time when other hospitals are experiencing declining admissions, Pepin Heart has seen an increase. It isn't a matter of people being in worse shape or abusing their tickers; rather, it's about growing awareness of the facility and an overall move among Americans toward greater accountability of their personal health.

For example, Pepin Heart has begun marketing campaigns that get its doctors out in the community to educate. One area of emphasis for the hospital has been the importance of not ignoring the nudging chest pain that might be the first warning sign of a potentially fatal heart attack. Methods for treating such medical emergencies improve practically daily, and catching the problem early allows more patients to walk out of hospitals with a new lease on life.

“This place has improved dramatically in terms of quality metrics and financial performance,” says Dr. Charles Lambert, medical director of Pepin Heart. He notes that the hospital has enjoyed steady revenue growth since moving into its own dedicated facility nearly five years ago, reaching approximately $33 million in 2010.

“All of our objectives have been designed to complement operational changes leading to improved patient outcomes,” Lambert adds. “We find that if patients do better and if that can be documented, business growth follows.”

The three-story, 125,000-square-foot hospital, part of the University Community Health complex at the northwest corner of Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, includes a 52-bed pre- and post-cardiovascular interventional unit, 16 cardiovascular critical care beds, a 20-bed cardiac surgery recovery unit, 48 progressive care beds, five surgical suites, and 10 cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology invasive procedure suites. It is recognized among “10 Specialty Heart Hospitals to Know” by Becker's Hospital Review.

Stem cells part of research

Pepin Heart is also the home of the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Research Institute, which conducts a broad range of clinical trials with medical universities across the country as well as the nearby University of South Florida. Research projects address important areas such as development of cholesterol-lowering drugs, management of cardiac rhythms, device therapy and basic research.

Lambert says the hospital is also collaborating with the University of Florida and Shands Hospital in Gainesville to implement stem cell research as a breakthrough alternative to open-heart procedures. It is also a satellite of the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Cardiac Cell Therapy Research Network, which he says has brought cutting-edge clinical research to local patients and provides a foundation for future collaborative projects.

“Being involved in clinical research allows us to elevate our standard of care,” says Lambert, who has nearly four decades of medical and research experience. He came to Pepin Heart from UF when the hospital was spun off from UCH.

Participation in clinical trials allows Pepin Heart to be on the front line of the newest cures and procedures while also offering patients more options for treatment.

While UCH has conducted heart procedures for more than two decades, Pepin Heart was established in a new, separate facility April 3, 2006. The hospital is named in memory of Art Pepin, a well-known regional beer distributor for Anheuser-Busch Co., who became the world's oldest heart transplant patient in 1986 at age 65. By the time Pepin died in 2000, the effort was well under way to establish a dedicated heart hospital in Tampa.

The Pepin family's $1 million donation was just the beginning of the process, with a long list of well-known Tampa Bay area philanthropists also contributing. A benefit dinner called the Sweetheart Rodeo was held Feb. 14 at TPepin's Hospitality Centre. The event raised nearly $100,000 to raise awareness and provide the latest equipment.

Focus and passion

Public support for Pepin Heart is reflected in the way doctors, nurses and other personnel conduct themselves, says Brigitte Shaw, the hospital's CEO and a longtime veteran of the UCH system. This is largely driven by the fact that it is a separate, specialized hospital focused specifically on cardiovascular care with its own programs and day-to-day operations, creating a work culture different from most other hospitals, she says.

“You walk through this building and you see a group of people who are very focused and passionate,” Shaw says, noting that the hospital's patient satisfaction scores are higher than any other in the UCH system. She adds that employee turnover at Pepin Heart is low and qualified personnel from other facilities clamor to work there.

UCH became part of Orlando-based Adventist Health System last September, which Lambert says is as much of a benefit to Pepin Heart because of greater interaction between hospitals. Adventist committed $125 million toward capital investment of UCH facilities in the Tampa Bay area.

Shaw notes that cardiovascular disease remains the nation's leading cause of death, claiming nearly 1 million lives each year at the rate of one every 33 seconds. More women die of heart disease than men, which she says has resulted in educational efforts such as the American Heart Association's “Go Red for Women” program. This national program aims to reduce the incidences of cardiovascular disease and stroke among women and is part of Pepin Heart's overall outreach and information mission.

Although heart ailments are still largely associated with older men, Shaw says Pepin Heart receives patients in their 30s and 40s with hereditary conditions that put them at greater risk. In most of those cases, proper diet and exercise aren't always enough prevention: A common denominator is a parent who had sudden cardiac death before age 55.

'Don't die guessing'

Another important message Pepin Heart tries to get across to the public is the importance of calling 911 if someone thinks they're having a heart attack, rather than relying on a spouse or family member to drive to the emergency room. It's better to err on the side of caution, and it's OK to be embarrassed if it turns out to be indigestion, Shaw says. “One of our phrases here is don't die guessing,” she says.

The message certainly isn't lost on the hospital's biggest backer. Tom Pepin, Art's son and chairman of Pepin Distributing Co., revealed during the Sweetheart Rodeo that he endured two days of warning signs before letting his wife drive him to the ER, where doctors confirmed that he was indeed having a heart attack.

Finances should also not block potential heart patients from getting help. Lambert says he doesn't foresee the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called ObamaCare, affecting the way Pepin Heart operates.

“We end up taking care of everybody, no matter what,” Lambert says. “It's all a matter of how you parcel it out.”


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