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By Dr. Chitra Selvaraj

Acutely aware of the high incidence of cardiac disease in Niagara County, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center President and CEO Joe Ruffolo has worked hard to meet this growing need ever since he first came here. Now he has taken another giant step in that direction with the announcement that the Buffalo Heart Group has joined Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center to provide high quality non invasive and clinical cardiology services right here at the Heart Center of Niagara.

"This new partnership we have concluded with the Buffalo Heart Group means that six new cardiologists and nurse practitioners will be added to our staff," says President Ruffolo. "In doing this we have greatly increased our delivery of cardiac services, not only in the City of Niagara Falls, but throughout Western Niagara and northern Erie County. Much of this care can be provided within the Heart Center of Niagara, right here adjacent to NFMMC, allowing the Center to fulfill the vision we set forth for it in 2004. This improvement will make a significant difference in the quality of health care Niagara County residents have available to them in terms of the prevention and early detection of cardiac disease."

"We are a group of physicians that provide cardiac care," says Dr. Marie Iacona of the Buffalo Heart Group. "Most of what our super specialists do will require patients to be transferred to one of the Buffalo hospitals. But, we can put pacemakers in here in Niagara Falls, for example, and we can do peripheral vascular studies."

Representing an investment of $20 million in better health for the Niagara region, the Heart Center of Niagara made Niagara Falls Memorial Medical the only Western New York facility with an emergency room that was fully integrated with a cardiac care center when it opened seven years ago. Both the Heart Center and the newly announced partnership with the Buffalo Heart Group are outgrowths of a growing concern about cardiac care in our community that began when President Ruffolo first came to NFMMC.

"I came to Memorial at the end of 2002/2003 and as a result of an instant community assessment, the need for cardiac care rose to the top," he recalls. "Niagara County has some of the worst cardiac statistics with respect to the proliferation of cardiac disease and cardiac morbidity. The situation cries out for more early detection and early prevention so that patients don't end up having to go to the emergency room for treatment of a heart attack. The demand for prevention has always outstripped the supply of high quality cardiologists and nurse practitioners needed to provide enough prevention services on an outpatient basis."

As a result of this latest development, Ruffolo believes that heart attacks will be prevented and lives will be saved.

"This will allow us to use outpatient care to monitor the progression of cardiac disease so that we can prevent heart attacks from happening five or ten years down the road," he notes. "This is not only an enormous benefit to the individual, it is also a great benefit to business and governmental health insurance contributors because of the expense associated with open heart surgery."

Among the non-invasive cardiac services that will be available are: echo cardiography, nuclear stress testing, holter monitoring, and CT angiography which will be used in cases in which less invasive ways of detecting blockages are appropriate.

"One of the treatments from which patients can benefit is cardiac rehab, especially if they are in the post operative stage of their treatment," Ruffolo adds. "For some reason, cardiac rehab is under utilized. It starts with cardiologists referring patients who would be excellent candidates for rehab that can improve circulation and keep them out of the hospital."

Among the added benefits for the patient is the fact that he or she will have the same doctor throughout their treatment, even if they are transferred to a Buffalo facility.

"The other benefit from the patient's standpoint is the continuity of care they will get from the same cardiologist no matter whether they are getting their treatment here or in Buffalo," says Ruffolo. "Prior to our partnership with the Buffalo Heart Group, if a patient was being managed by one of our cardiologists and a primary care physician here and the patient had to go to Buffalo for an intervention, he would see a different cardiologist there which can lead to things getting lost in the 'hand-off.' Now everything will be managed by the same doctors, so at any given time they will know what's going on with that patient right on through the follow up stage after the patient gets out of the hospital."

Once the follow up period begins, patients will be able to get the care they need at the Buffalo Heart Group's Porter Road, Niagara Falls office as well as their office in Wheatfield, not to mention at the Heart Center of Niagara. Both the Heart Center and the Buffalo Heart Group have designated physicians on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to service the needs of their patients.

"What I am really impressed with is the state of the art equipment the Heart Center has," says Dr. Iacona. "For example, it has a PET Scan which can determine if a region of the heart muscle is alive or dead or scarred. There is Echocardiography which is a tool for assessing the structure of the heart. And, there is also Holter monitoring for arrhythmia detection. I could go on and on."

There is even a mechanism that allows a nurse at her station or even Dr. Iacona while at home to see a real time picture of a patient's condition.

Above all, President Ruffolo wants local residents to know that access to all the cardiac care they might need is now available to them.

"This is great news for Niagara County residents who, up to now, have not had access to high quality cardiac care," he concludes. "So the message is: If you are experiencing symptoms that are heart related, don't hesitate. Come immediately to the Heart Center of Niagara."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 1, 2011