Hospital seeks heart-surgery OK

Lexington hopes to offer open-heart surgery by 2011

Lexington Medical Center filed a request with state regulators Thursday to perform open-heart surgery.

Lexington wants to get one of Providence Hospitals' four open-heart surgery units. In exchange, Lexington will pay Providence $15 million and drop its protest of Providence's proposed expansion in Northeast Richland.

The unique settlement ended a costly five-year dispute between the hospitals. Lexington hopes to start offering open-heart surgery by early 2011 if it wins state approval this spring.

Lexington now can diagnose heart patients and perform emergency angioplasties, but must transfer patients needing more critical care to existing heart units at Providence and Palmetto Health in downtown Columbia.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which regulates hospitals, has rejected Lexington's previous proposals to add heart units in the area, fearing expansion would spread surgical talent too thin.

The latest request would not add to the number of heart units in the region allowed by state regulators, just shift one around.

Still, Palmetto Health could oppose the request with an eye toward winning approval for a satellite hospital in Irmo, observers said.

Lexington has protested Palmetto Health's new location, while Palmetto Health has opposed Lexington's moves to offer heart surgery.

On Thursday, Palmetto Health, the region's largest hospital system, said only that: "We anticipated that this (request) would be forthcoming and will be interested in reviewing it."

Lexington also asked DHEC for permission Thursday to handle non-emergency cardiac catheterizations.

All together, Lexington's requests would allow it to perform routine heart procedures to unblock arteries as well as bypass and valve repair surgeries, said Lynn Bailey, a Columbia health care economist.

Lexington's requests were filed jointly with Providence. Providence has requested to de-license one of its heart units, while Lexington has sought to open one.

DHEC said it has never received a request filed jointly by two hospitals, unless it's for a merger.

"Approval of this request will allow us to address acute cardiac events in a more timely fashion, ultimately saving more lives," Lexington Medical Center President Mike Biediger said in a statement.

The agreement with Lexington could pave the way for Providence to add a new 32-bed tower at its 46-bed Northeast campus.