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First and only cardiac cath lab in Niagara County will save time and lives

An estimated 1800 to 1900 cardiovascular patients in Niagara County traveled to Erie County and beyond last year to seek the care they needed. Thanks to a newly opened cardiac catheterization lab, that number should drop significantly.

Clean hospital beds, specialized diagnostic equipment, and a newly trained staff are all part of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s new cardiac catheterization lab – the first and only one of its kind in all of Niagara County.

Kelley Gombert, RNFA, is one of the nurses assigned to the new “cath” lab team. She and her fellow staff members have spent the last six months at the Gates Vascular Institute and Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, getting to know their roles in the new lab by practicing in ones already up and running. What she learned is that for patients who need treatment – especially in emergency situations – not having to travel to hospitals in Erie County or elsewhere could mean the difference between life and death.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
The Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital Cardiac Cath Lab Team

“Any time [people] have chest pain, the time that they’re having the pain can kill that muscle,” explained Gombert. “So when you kill heart muscle, you leave a scar and that heart doesn’t function as well as it did. So we want to save that heart muscle, so we are here trying to do that.”

Those who have been able to make the trip outside of Niagara County for treatment like cardiac catheterization are among the fortunate and privileged, according to Memorial Medical Center President Joseph Ruffolo. Many others don’t make it to the treatment they need before it’s too late.

“The sub-population within Niagara County – particularly the African American, Native American, the economically disadvantaged, people with special needs, people with mental illness – there’s a huge health disparity issue with respect to them accessing this life-saving technology,” said Ruffolo.

The new lab exists thanks to collaboration between Memorial Medical Center and Buffalo-based partners at Kaleida Health, Catholic Health, and the Erie County Medical Center. Because New York State limits the number of cardiac catheterization labs, the four entities weren’t permitted to form solo-run cath labs separately. ECMC gave up one of its two cath lab licenses so the new lab in Niagara Falls could be formed.

ECMC President Thomas Quatroche said collaboration is always the right choice. He said when Ruffolo approached him about the idea, the decision came naturally.

“[He] came to us and said, ‘Listen, we’ve had instances during heavy snowstorms and other events that people couldn’t cross the bridge and helicopters can’t fly. It’s a real issue for us from a healthcare perspective and, obviously, a patient perspective,” Quatroche recalled. “So when you start talking in those terms, the fact is this cath lab is going to save lives.”

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Catholic Health President & CEO Joseph McDonald, Kaleida Health President & CEO Jody Lomeo, and Erie County medical Center President & CEO Thomas Quatroche

Even though the partnership will draw patients and profit away from the Erie County-based institutions, Kaleida President Jody Lomeo said the community comes first.

“As much as we’re proud of the work that we do in downtown Buffalo and the Catholics are proud of what they do, it was easy to understand that what’s really important is making sure they get this type of care right here in this community,” said Lomeo.

On Wednesday morning, the lab will see the first of an estimated 800 to 900 patients for 2017. In the years to follow, that number is expected to rise.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.