CKY Market Review: At the forefront of innovation

From 3D printed hearts to robotic surgery, providers are leaders in health care technology

By Robert Hadley and Lorie Hailey

VIRTUAL HEART: Jonathan Wenk, above, and Kenneth Campbell are developing computer software at the University of Kentucky to deliver better therapies for patients with life-threatening heart failure.

Central Kentucky has a rich tradition of service and innovation in the medical field. Health systems operated by the University of Kentucky, Baptist Health and CHI Saint Joseph each operate multiple standalone hospitals within a 50-mile radius of Lexington. Numerous independent facilities, like Eastern State Hospital, Clark Regional Medical Center in Winchester and Georgetown Community Hospital, and independent physician practices round out the region’s health care offerings.

Central Kentucky has always stood tall on the map of innovation in health care. The state’s first robot-assisted surgery took place at the University of Kentucky in 2004, when Dr. Chand Ramaiah performed coronary artery bypass grafting using the da Vinci Surgical System. The robotic system is now used at hospitals all over the commonwealth for all sorts of procedures, from gynecological and urological to general surgery and even weight loss. The da Vinci system allows for smaller incisions and quicker recoveries.

It was a game-changer. And just one of many innovations that have shaped the landscape of health care in Central Kentucky.

Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in Kentucky, health care providers are focused on best practices for treating cardiac conditions and helping patients make lifestyle changes to reduce heart disease risk. At UK’s Gill Heart and Vascular Institute, researchers are finding very creative ways to improve cardiac surgery and save lives.

Jonathan Wenk and Kenneth Campbell are working on a program that would allow doctors to use virtual models of patients’ hearts to try out “treatments” and see their long-term outcomes before performing actual procedures. Combining physiology and engineering, the researchers are developing software to deliver better therapies for patients with life-threatening heart failure. The endeavor received a $3 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Another doctor at Gill, Dr. Michael Winkler, has merged his background in visual arts with his scientific expertise to create custom, anatomically correct 3D printed hearts as a tool for both physicians and their patients. The hearts help patients understand their care and are helping physicians refine how they deliver care to their patients, according to a press release from UK.

While Winkler did not invent 3D hearts, his version is unique: It’s the size of your fist and looks like a carnival prize. And it only costs $5 to make.

“Fitting patients with new heart valves or stents is challenging because everyone’s anatomy is slightly different in size and shape,” Winkler said. “Doctors are very good at ‘guesstimating,’ but about one-third of the time their guess is off and a $30K valve has to be thrown away.”

Winkler’s 3D printed hearts allow doctors to make precise fittings before the patient is wheeled into the Cath Lab.

UK Healthcare isn’t alone in its quest to improve cardiac health in Central Kentucky.

In 2019, Baptist Health Lexington became Kentucky’s first hospital – and the second hospital in the country – to achieve accreditation for its Cardiac Cath Lab. The designation is bestowed by the American College of Cardiology. Closely related is the milestone of Baptist Health Lexington hosting its 200th trans-catheter valve replacement (TAVR) procedure. The minimally invasive procedure reverses narrowing of arteries resulting from calcium buildup.

Baptist Health Lexington saw its footprint grow by 43 cardiac beds, part of a $14.4 million investment that also added facilities for endocrinology and primary care. Baptist Health Lexington also captured its second consecutive Healthgrades Outstanding Patient Experience Award, and was ranked No. 3 in the state in the U.S. News and World Report’s annual Best Hospitals analysis.

Frankfort Regional Medical Center is the first hospital in Kentucky to implant the newest injectable cardiac monitor – the Biomonitor III from Biotronik. The monitor is designed to document suspected arrhythmia or unexplained syncope with increased clarity, enabling fast diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Early detection of arrhythmia enables physician intervention before adverse outcomes occur.

From 3D printed hearts to virtual visits with patients and new ways to perform life-saving procedures, Central Kentucky health care providers are constantly adapting to better reach patients and improve health outcomes.

Continuous improvement, often spurred by surgical technology, electronic medical records, transparency and market forces have radically changed the health care field. In some ways, hospital administration might today be a field where the passion, grit and determination found in a Silicon Valley startup might be a permanent part of the rewritten job description.

Over three decades, Bruce Tassin, CEO of CHI Saint Joseph Health – and president of Saint Joseph Hospital – has seen “tremendous” change in the industry.

“While the regulatory and operational side of health care never stops evolving, I believe that the primary philosophy for being a health care operator has not changed,” he said.

Patient care remains a top priority, Tassin said, along with astute management that ensures engaged physicians, happy employees and a collaborative management team at the top.

“Every day, I focus on making the experience better for our patients,” he said. “If the patient remains your priority, all other challenges can be overcome.”

The CHI Saint Joseph Health system Tassin oversees is faith-based, and he sees his job as “truly a ministry.”

CHI Saint Joseph Health is the new name for KentuckyOne Health’s former Lexington and eastern Kentucky properties. This comes after a 2017 announcement that KentuckyOne would divest its Louisville assets (later purchased by UofL) in favor of eastward expansion.

Saint Joseph and Saint Joseph East in Lexington also embrace innovation. The two hospitals are home to three da Vinci Xi robots, the most advanced technology available for minimally invasive surgery. The surgical system allows patients to have surgery with shorter hospital stays, faster recoveries and minimal scarring.

Saint Joseph is the only facility in the area that now has a second da Vinci Xi robot, and Saint Joseph East is the first hospital in Central Kentucky to be named a Center of Excellence in Robotic Surgery by the Surgical Review Corp., according to a press release from the health care system.

UK Medical Center ranked No. 1; Markey Cancer Center recognized

At the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Medical Center (or UK HealthCare as the entire health system is called), new leadership, recognition for pediatrics and cancer treatment, and a No. 1 statewide ranking sum up the changes felt across the system over the past year.

For the fourth consecutive year, the university’s medical center retained its top position in the U.S. News and World Report ratings for Kentucky health care. For the 2019-20 period, UK’s Markey Cancer Center has been named in the Top 50 national rankings for cancer care at No. 33.

“This ranking, along with our status as an NCI-designated cancer center, is evidence of how we are making an impact in cancer care across Kentucky and beyond,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of Markey Cancer Center.

In October 2018, officials with the National Cancer Institute renewed the Markey Center as a national cancer center for the next five years, granting the institution a $10.8 million research grant. UK HealthCare and the Lexington Clinic advanced cancer care in April 2019 by placing the clinic’s infusions, oncology services and radiation treatment under oversight of the Markey Center.

Helping to lead these important programs is a new external chief medical officer, Carol L. Steltenkamp, a UK pediatrics professor who assumed her new role in March 2019. Steltenkamp will be involved in strategy, outreach and communications, and will apply a clinical perspective to decision-making and help expand the medical center’s reach statewide.

Health outcomes across the commonwealth will improve with better access to quality care, said Colleen H. Swartz, vice president for hospital operations at UK HealthCare.

“One of our key challenges and barriers is the adequacy of care access for all Kentuckians,” she said. “Improving access to preventive care strategies as well as primary care provision could allow us to take a huge step forward with our health care environment.”

Smaller hospitals, big strides

Standalone medical facilities achieved notable success this year in Kentucky. For instance, Georgetown Community Hospital received distinctions for lung cancer detection and launched a way to see a doctor online with its Healthy Hub Virtual Visit. The e-visit portal will speed access to accurate diagnoses for busy patients, according to Georgetown Hospital President William Haugh.

Clark Regional Medical Center in Winchester hired a new CEO in 2019 and was named a Top 100 Rural and Community Hospital in the United States by The Chartis Center for Rural Health.

Aphreikah DuHaney-West came to Clark Regional from Teche Regional Medical Center, another LifePoint Health facility in Morgan City, Louisiana, where she served as CEO.

In 2018, the Winchester hospital added 34 providers, made more than $1 million in capital improvements, distributed a payroll of more than $44 million to 628 employees, donated more than $1.7 million in services to those in need and paid more than $2 million in taxes, according to its 2018 Community Benefit Report.

CHI Saint Joseph Health returns to its roots, looks to future

Saint Joseph Hospital, Saint Joseph East, and affiliated clinics and physician practices have moved into a new era as CHI Saint Joseph Health. With this new name, the health care system returns to its Catholic roots while looking to the future of service to the communities it serves.

That service also includes hospitals in Mount Sterling, Berea, London and Bardstown, as well as medical practices throughout the Central and Eastern Kentucky region.

“The Saint Joseph name is one of heritage and excellence,” said Bruce Tassin, CEO, CHI Saint Joseph Health, and president, Saint Joseph Hospital. “Our facilities’ reputations are built on quality care for all patients and leading-edge technology, and we are excited to continue this legacy and look to the future under this new name.”

That future includes growing to meet the needs of communities in the Saint Joseph service area. CHI Saint Joseph Health – Palomar opened earlier this year in Lexington. The ambulatory care center on Harrodsburg Road features a walk-in clinic for minor injuries and illnesses, as well as offices for primary care, Dexa Scan, X-ray and laboratory services.

The new health care landscape is growing into Winchester as well, as work continues on a new ambulatory care center at the Winchester Bypass. Scheduled to open in the spring of 2020, the 25,000 s.f. center will include primary care, cardiology, orthopedic surgery, imaging and a laboratory.

“All of our projects throughout central Kentucky have the goal of bringing care closer to patients,” said Kathy Love, vice president for strategy and business development at CHI Saint Joseph Health. “We want to make it as easy as possible for them to manage their health.”

In addition to the added facilities, CHI Saint Joseph Health continues to add technology and leverage unique partnerships to provide care to the communities throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky.

Please wait...

Subscribe to the FASTER LANE business newsletter.

Subscribe and receive breaking Kentucky business news and updates daily.