Open-heart services are needed here

Gwinnett Medical Center has an incredible vision for the future of health care in our community. As chairman of the Board of Directors, it is my privilege to see the progress made in this vision through Project PATH, the strategic plan to transform the way health care is delivered in Gwinnett.

Each time I visit the Lawrenceville campus, I see tremendous progress on the new patient tower, already rising 5 stories above the ground and growing taller each week. This tower will significantly improve accessibility to the health care delivered by Gwinnett Medical Center for our booming population.

However, one essential medical service is noticeably lacking from our home county. As Gwinnett Medical Center is preparing to address this void, the success of our effort will largely be in your hands.

The hospital is preparing to file an application with state health officials to provide open-heart surgery in Gwinnett. we are launching a campaign urging our community to stand up, speak out and support this effort for services that are desperately needed right here at home.

It is a disturbing but true fact that Gwinnett is the most highly populated county in the nation without an open-heart program.

That means those suffering from a heart attack needing extensive cardiac care (such as open-heart surgery or angioplasty) must be put on some of the nation's most congested roads and rushed to Atlanta to receive it. Our 750,000 residents need this urgent care right here in Gwinnett.

Our emergency department sees more than 100,000 patients annually, making it one of the four busiest in Georgia. More than 8,000 of these patients are treated for cardiac-related issues. The three other busiest emergency departments in Georgia have open-heart programs - Gwinnett Medical Center does not.

This permission comes from the Department of Community Health, with whom the hospital is filing their application for open heart services.

Between now and the time the application is filed, we'll be reaching out to people throughout the county asking them to visit www.openheartgwinnett.org.

It may seem like the statistics will be enough to convince the state to grant open heart to our county - but in reality, it must be the community rising up and speaking out to demand these services that will make the difference.

On July 8, the Gwinnett Daily Post penned an editorial lauding Gwinnett Medical Center's vision for the future, Project PATH. The Daily Post rightly asked if the community would support this transformation of health care: "For the health of the community now and in the future, it will be our duty to answer the call," the paper said.

Clyde and Sandra Strickland of Lawrenceville have been the first to answer the call, stepping forward to commit $1 million in support of advanced cardiac care in Gwinnett.

"Someone needed to step forward and make a statement. We believe we were driven to help lead this charge," Clyde Strickland said about the purpose behind their gift.

All of us can support this effort on some level. Your stories, finances and actions are imperative to the success of this effort. Specifically, we need letters from those whose lives have been impacted by not having timely access to open-heart services in Gwinnett for themselves, their family or their friends.

Our state officials must hear from our community. Your letters of support sent to Open Heart Gwinnett will be included in our application to the state. They will be powerful in communicating to these state officials that open heart surgery is not an option or a convenience for Gwinnett - it is quite literally a matter of life and death.

I urge you to visit www.openheartgwinnett.org and let your voice be heard.

Wayne Sikes is chairman of the Board of Directors of Gwinnett Medical Center.