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Letter: Cardiac Program at Community Medical Center 'Unnecessary'

A letter to the editor written by Deborah Heart and Lung Center CEO

Editor's note: Below is a letter written by Joseph P. Chirichella, President and CEO of Deborah Heart and Lung Center, who states that a cardiac program at Community Medical Center in Toms River is unnecessary. Manchester Mayor Michael Fressola , as has the Township Council.

To the Editor:

Recently, the local news has carried stories about Community Medical Center’s push to petition the state for a cardiac surgery license. Community’s reasoning is that Ocean County has no cardiac program and, as such, one should be approved at its hospital in Toms River.

While Deborah understands Community’s desire for a cardiac surgery program, Deborah is only a short drive away and health dollars are scarce — and becoming scarcer. Spending money on an unnecessary program — the cost of which will eventually be passed along to patients and taxpayers — makes no sense when there are two high quality cardiac surgery programs just a short drive from Community, especially when these programs already provide excellent care to residents of Ocean County. Everyone wins from a collaborative mentality and Deborah believes that Community should collaborate with its hospital colleagues rather than spend needless money lobbying for its own program.

Despite what Community officials have publicly said, travel to Deborah is not a hardship for residents of Ocean County. Deborah is located just six miles from the Ocean County border and just 32 minutes from Community to the west, along lightly trafficked roads — almost the exact same distance Jersey Shore Medical Center sits from Community to the north. This means that no resident has to drive far for cardiac surgery now — with the distance less with each mile the resident lives from Community.  

In fact, Deborah is so convenient to Ocean County that its residents make up over half of all patient visits at Deborah. However, we don’t think that Ocean County residents choose their high tech healthcare provider based on who is a few minutes closer — rather, we believe that they choose us based on our excellent care. This year, Deborah was named one of the Top 50 Cardiovascular Programs in the United States by Thomson Reuters and continued our patient satisfaction scores in the 99th percentile nationwide. We believe this — and not the drive of a few miles — is why so many Ocean County patients chose Deborah.  

For those patients that want to be close to a loved-one during a hospital stay, Deborah offers on-site, low-cost and sliding scale hotel-type accommodations and free parking. Given that the majority of Deborah’s patients are Ocean County residents, Community’s claims of hardship based on distance seem out of place.  

Asking Community to collaborate for best patient care makes sense from a financial standpoint as well. Maintaining a high quality cardiac surgery program requires an investment and a certain steady volume of patients to support the cost of the physicians, personnel and equipment at an effective rate. National and state trends show a sharp decline in the number of patients undergoing cardiac surgeries, as heart centers throughout the country are treating complex cardiac problems with less invasive measures. Fewer cases mean higher cost-per-case for overhead. Deborah’s costs, as recently published by the Medicare program, are the lowest of any cardiac surgery center in New Jersey and lower than Community’s costs. Adding another program will simply add cost to the overall system.

Finally, it is well accepted that quality is higher when there are fewer cardiac programs performing more surgeries. This is why the number of cardiac surgery licenses is limited in New Jersey and why — with the decline in demand — no new programs should be approved.

Deborah’s view is that rather than compete for a shrinking pool of patients and potentially reduce the quality of services for all patients, Community should collaborate with Deborah to send those patients who require the complex care provided at Deborah — such as open heart surgery, high risk catheterizations, implantable defibrillators, to name a few — to Deborah for treatment, and then work to return them home to their home hospital — Community — for more routine care. We think this makes perfect sense and will continue to work with Community to provide the highest quality care for ALL patients.

Joseph P. Chirichella
President and CEO
Deborah Heart and Lung Center 

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