McCULLOUGH: Matters of the heart

In a scant 18 months, you finally will be able to have a heart attack in Gwinnett County.

OK, that’s probably not the best way to phrase that. But right now, if you have any of a number of heart ailments that require them to crack open your ticker, you have to make the trek into Atlanta for said service. Yep, that’s just what everyone wants — a long ride in Atlanta traffic while you wonder if your heart has a few more beats left in it.

A few years ago, Gwinnett Medical Center officials and local leaders saw the ridiculous nature of that situation, given that somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000 people live here now and yet couldn’t be treated in their own neighborhood.

So the good folks at the hospital proposed building a facility here to take care of Gwinnett’s heart patients at home and applied for permission from the state. Wanting to provide better, quicker care for heart patients should’ve been a slam-dunk, right?

Wrong. What sounded like a great idea to Gwinnett was not so great in the eyes of other hospitals. In a move that can only be described as callous, three Atlanta-area hospitals fought against the medical center’s application.

And here I thought the health of patients was the top concern in the medical profession.

These hospitals cited things like quality and a lack of need. But this fact is telling: Of 8,000 cardiac patients every year at Gwinnett Medical Center, 20 percent were able to be admitted. The rest went downtown. So here’s my translation of these hospitals’ quality and need concerns: We do all of those operations now, and we don’t want to lose the business.

Luckily, the state wasn’t swayed, the application was approved and the Atlanta-area hospitals’ appeals denied. On Wednesday, Gwinnett Medical Center broke ground on its new open-heart facility, which will also add to existing cardiac service.

My wife has had to spend some time in a couple of different hospitals in recent months (not heart-related, thank God), one in Athens and one in Gwinnett. During those visits, I couldn’t help but notice how many times I heard “Code Blue, cardiac” or some similar announcement over the public address system. Each time I said a silent prayer that whomever that call was for would be OK.

I also hoped they wouldn’t need a trip downtown because I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing your chances of surviving get worse the farther you have to go to get treated in a cardiac emergency. In about a year and a half that’s one less thing Gwinnett residents will have to worry about.

That’s a thought that does the heart good.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.