CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Chesapeake Regional Medical Center has been granted approval by the Virginia State Health Commissioner, Dr. Colin Greene, to offer open-heart surgery at the hospital.

The approval comes after a recommendation by the Division of Certificate of Public Need (COPN) staff in November, and over five years after the hospital’s initial request.

“All the twists and turns, roadblocks, and nuances make today all the more gratifying,” said Chesapeake Regional Healthcare President & CEO Reese Jackson at a news conference on Monday.

Sentara contested Chesapeake Regional’s first application for a Certificate of Public Need. In 2018, then Health Commissioner Norm Oliver denied the application.

“I guess there was a little competition and folks saw an opportunity to maintain a monopoly. That monopoly is now finally broken,” said attorney Peter Mellette who represented Chesapeake Regional in the Supreme Court of Virginia along with attorney Steve Emmert.

They won the appeal and the court sent the application back to current health commissioner, Colin Green, who approved it.

It was a proud moment indeed for Emmert who grew up a mile from the hospital.

“I do remember selling t-shirts when I was in elementary and junior high school to raise money to build the original hospital,” Emmert told WAVY.

Chesapeake Regional Medical Center has a strong reputation for its existing interventional cardiology program, with the region’s highest heart attack survival rate. It ranks in the top 90th percentile among hospitals nationally.

Jackson said the expansion into open-heart surgery is a “necessary and logical” move that will give residents of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina better access to life-saving services closer to their homes and workplaces.

Dr. Thomas Carter, Medical Director of Cardiovascular Surgery at Chesapeake Regional, explained that they will use a universal bed system in their heart program. “That means the patients will come from the operating room to intensive care and stay there typically for the length of their stay,” he said.

Patients will not be moved, for example, from the ICU to a step down ICU and possibly a third floor in the hospital. This means the patient will be under the care of the same surgeon, cardiologist and nursing staff the whole time. “All in one place specializing in heart surgery, taking care of you everyday,” Dr. Carter said.

This Universal Bed system has been shown to produce better patient outcomes.

Virginia law requires hospitals to obtain approval from the state in the form of a COPN before offering certain healthcare services. Chesapeake Regional’s initial application was denied, but in May of this year, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that the former State Health Commissioner had made an error in the denial. The hospital then reapplied, leading to the approval by the current Commissioner.

The approval includes the assertion that Chesapeake Regional’s open-heart program will bring beneficial competition to a highly concentrated open-heart surgery market, improving patient choice and reducing healthcare costs without significantly reducing the existing open-heart surgery volumes of other hospital programs in the region.

Officials say the installation of equipment and recruitment of surgeons and staff will begin immediately, with the hospital aiming to perform cardiac surgeries in early 2024.

The hospital plans to do about 150 heart surgeries in its first year, 250 in its second year, and already has the space carved out to add another cardiac operating room as the program grows.

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