Two hospitals in Anne Arundel County have asked the state for permission to perform open-heart surgery, setting up a likely battle between the two to become the first facility in about a decade to receive the lucrative designation as a cardiac center.
Anne Arundel Medical Center and University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center filed applications Friday with the Maryland Health Care Commission to become designated as heart hospitals. The state has 10 heart hospitals, including five in the Baltimore area.
"It is unlikely that both could get approval. One or none is a likely scenario," said Ben Steffen, executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission.
In the past, it has proven difficult for hospitals to get the state's permission to perform open-heart surgeries. But last summer the commission changed the rules to make it easier for hospitals to apply.
Before the rule change, new heart hospital designations would not be granted unless programs at other facilities weren't performing well, said Paul E. Parker, director of the commission's Center for Health Care Facilities Planning & Development.
"The commission has taken the position in recent years of letting people apply and make their case instead of creating a hard and fast barrier that unless there is a problem we won't accept the application for review," Parker said.
If the designation is approved, the commission can review the hospitals periodically and take away heart certificates if they don't perform enough surgeries and maintain quality standards, something that is also a change in the regulations.
With a population of more than 550,000, Anne Arundel County is the state's largest county without a hospital that can perform open-heart surgeries. Instead, patients are sent to other hospitals. Last year, Anne Arundel County Medical Center sent 200 heart patients to other hospitals and 500 total left the county.
When patients are moved less, they have better outcomes and a lower risk of complications, hospital officials said. It also allows patients' cardiologists and cardiac surgeons to work as a team.
"It is better for continuity of care," said Paula Widerlite, chief strategy officer for Anne Arundel Medical Center. "They get to stay in one place. They would literally go down the hall rather than down the highway."
Many of the patients in Anne Arundel end up crossing the border into Washington, which has an impact on jobs in Maryland, said Stephen Bartlett, chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical System. In addition, follow-up care is not convenient for patients when they have their surgery in the nation's capital, he said.
"D.C. may only be several miles away, but with traffic it can take a long time to get there," Bartlett said.
Anne Arundel Medical Center would work with the Johns Hopkins Medicine division of cardiac surgery to establish its program if its application is granted.
To get approval, hospitals must show they can perform 200 surgeries a year and that they would not threaten the business of other hospitals, Parker said. He expects hospitals that have programs to contest the applications.
But Hopkins officials said that there is room for programs in Anne Arundel County and that they would still expect to get some of the more complicated cases from hospitals there. It would be less costly and better for consumers not to transport the more straightforward cases, said Brian Gragnolati, a Johns Hopkins Health System senior vice president.
"If you can maintain that care in the community, and get high-quality care done safely, that will be better for the consumer," Gragnolati said.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Shantee Woodards contributed to this article.