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Merger to create heart institute

Thu., July 22, 2010

A medical helicopter touches down on the roof of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on Wednesday.  (Dan Pelle)
A medical helicopter touches down on the roof of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center on Wednesday. (Dan Pelle)

Providence, doctor groups to broaden array of services

Providence Health Care and two Spokane-based cardiology groups announced Wednesday they will merge this fall to create a national center that could become a destination for patients seeking state-of-the-art heart care.

Providence’s chief executive, Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, said Providence, Spokane Cardiology and Heart Clinics Northwest, consolidated as Providence Spokane Heart Institute, will improve the safety, quality and efficiency of care, in part as a response to changes anticipated under health care reform.

Spokane Cardiology’s president, Dr. Braden Batkoff, said the Heart Institute would be able to retain and attract more specialists to provide a broader array of services to patients who might now travel outside Spokane for treatment.

“Cardio-disease is the leading cause of death in our communities,” Batkoff said.

Dr. Dean Hill, Heart Clinics Northwest’s president, said the consolidation will help to maintain offices already established by Providence and the cardiology groups in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

For example, Hill said, as reforms mandate more efficient care, without the resources of a larger organization it might not be possible for him to continue the seven-hour round trip to see patients in Libby, Mont.

Agwunobi said financial terms of the merger are still being negotiated. The cost will be significant, he said, but Providence can justify the investment based on the long-term benefit to the community.

He added that the merger is not a response to the recent purchase of the Rockwood Clinic by Community Health Services, which owns Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center.

Heart Institute doctors will continue to provide care at those hospitals, Agwunobi said, and the institute would remain available to outside doctors.

All three said Minneapolis Heart Institute, which they recently visited, exemplifies the kind of cardiology practice they would like to establish in Spokane.

“The hallmark of the model is that it is physician-led, not hospital-led,” Agwunobi said.

The Minneapolis institute also has 132 clinical studies under way, he noted.

Agwunobi said plans also call for a medical research and education foundation that will help support the four-year medical school Spokane officials hope to have in place in 2014.

“This is a pivotal moment in the medical history of Spokane,” he said.

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