May 23, 2019

Heart center dispute heads to N.H. court

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s busiest heart surgery center is going to the state supreme court in its attempt to block rival programs at hospitals in Concord and Portsmouth.

The New England Heart Institute will argue that a state review board improperly allowed Concord Hospital and Columbia Portsmouth Regional Hospital to start their own heart surgery programs.

The New England Heart Institute, owned by Optima Health, wants the court to set aside certificates of need that allowed the two hospitals to start their cardiac surgery programs. In June 1997, the state’s Health Services Planning and Review Board voted 3-2 in favor of allowing the programs.

The heart institute contends the new programs could potentially lower the quality of heart surgery care in New Hampshire. Even before the two hospitals started their programs, there was a scarcity of quality heart surgery staff in the state, according to heart institute documents.

The court also must decide whether the state review board first should have determined if New Hampshire needed more heart surgery programs before allowing the hospitals to apply for a certificate of need.

The supreme court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday.

The situation arose not long after Optima Health committed $35 million to relocate all of its acute care services at Catholic Medical Center to Elliot Hospital, both in Manchester.

Before Concord and Portsmouth recently started their heart surgery programs, only the heart institute and Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital performed heart surgery in New Hampshire.

The heart institute, however, has the most to lose by the new competition. According to court filings, the center is losing its potential to generate an estimated $40 million a year from 1,200 heart surgeries. Between 400 and 500 of those patients are expected to have their heart surgery done in Portsmouth or Concord next year.

Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital is not fighting the heart surgery programs. Instead, through Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the hospital has formed collaborations with them.

The Portsmouth hospital figures to compete directly with the heart institute and Portland’s Maine Medical Center, which also is appealing the state review.

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