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Saving more lives closer to home
Rockdale Medical Centers new cardiac catheterization lab and Percutaneous Coronary Intervention pro
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Potentially hundreds of lives will be saved thanks to the new cardiac catheterization lab at the Rockdale Medical Center (RMC).

On Thursday, the hospital held a ribbon cutting for the new multi-million dollar lab with several hospital employee, staff members and county officials in attendance. RMC will begin officially using the state-of-the-art lab August 3.

The lab is part of the Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) program, formerly called a cardiac angioplasty, which will allow doctors at the medical facility to treat people suffering with a heart attack by opening blocked arties to get blood flowing to the heart muscle.

This type of procedure is a welcome addition to the hospital because patients will no longer have to go to hospitals in downtown Atlanta to receive treatment, says Becky Upchurch, director of cardiovascular services for RMC.

RMC will be able to treat at least 1,800 people annually between this new lab and the one other cardiac catheter lab, which was built in 2008. In 2014, the hospital had to send at least 500 people with heart disease related symptoms to other hospitals in downtown Atlanta because they had reached maximum capacity. 

“We did almost 900 patients in this room last year. That’s too many for the room,” said Upchurch about the first cardiac cather lab. “We kind of hit our limit of patients to treat out here.”

In addition to allowing more Rockdale County citizens the be able to receive treatment in their hometown, the new lab will also save citizens in surrounding areas, like Walton, Jasper, and Newton Counties, a long trip to Atlanta, which is crucial when it comes to treating heart disease, says Upchurch.

“With a heart attack, the longer you take to get the heart open, the more damage your heart has, so the goal in life is 120 minutes from the time the ambulance picks you up until we get the artery open,” she said.

RMC Chief Operating Officer James Atkins also stressed the importance that time and availability has on saving lives.

“We know that every minute that that patient is open and not having the blood flow they need, they’re getting damage,” he said to the crowd of people that filled the hospital’s north entrance lobby. “We know the sooner we get that, if we provide that here, they’re going to have better outcomes.”

The new multi-million dollar lab features state-of-the-art equipment and will not only be a diagnostic center, but it will also be able to treat the blocked arteries with angioplasty, atherectomy and stenting. Implantation of permanent pacemakers and automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillators (AICD) could also be performed.

This PCI program has been on the hospital’s wish list for the last five years, ever since the state legislature passed a bill that allows hospitals to request permission to begin PCI without surgical backup programs.

Last year, RMC CEO Deborah Armstrong and other executives at the hospital decided it was time to really pursue the PCI because they have gone through a number of changes that put them in a better position to maintain the program.

Peidmont Healthcare partnered with RMC to make the PCI program at the hospital a reality. Matt Robinson, manager of Piedmont Heart Regional Network, says that choosing to partner with RMC on this project made great business because “a great deal of patients,” who were being transferred to Piedmont Healthcare, were “coming from this area.”

Also having people leave the community to get treatment sometimes would add extra burden on families in the community because theyt would have to take off time from work to be with their loved ones.

“It’s not just the patient but the family. The impact of the families,” said Robinson. “There’s’ a really big social factor to this as well. We saw this as an opportunity for us not to just help build this program with Rockdale but to support the patients that we’re already caring for in this market.”

LifePoint Hospitals, Inc. owns RMC. The company agreed to fund the second $2.56 million catheterization lab in September to house the PCI program. The one catheterization lab currently at RMC can only be used for diagnostic purposes but not treatment.

Construction on the new lab began in February.