Lawmakers allow two hospitals to expand cardiac procedures

Two prominent California hospitals will be allowed to perform some cardiac procedures in outpatient buildings thanks to legislation approved on Friday and sponsored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma.

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Two prominent California hospitals will be allowed to perform some cardiac procedures in outpatient buildings thanks to legislation approved on Friday.

The bill involves cardiac catheterization, in which a small tube is inserted into an artery or vein and threaded to a patient’s chest to help diagnose or treat ailments. Such procedures have been allowed only in main hospital buildings, but supporters say they can now be done safely in new outpatient buildings planned for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.

The bill received overwhelming support in the Assembly and Senate on Friday, and it was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature or veto.

The California Nurses Assn. fiercely opposed the bill, saying there would be fewer safeguards if something goes wrong during a procedure. It also pointed out that outpatient buildings don’t need to meet the same standards for earthquake safety.

“What they’re proposing to do will seriously compromise patient care safety,” said Bonnie Castillo, the association’s legislative director.

The California Hospital Assn. and the hospitals themselves rejected those concerns, pointing out that the outpatient buildings will be connected to the main hospital, giving patients the same access to operating rooms in case of an emergency.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), the bill’s sponsor, said expanding into outpatient buildings is important to avoid long waits for cardiac catheter procedures.

“It becomes more and more dangerous to the patients the longer they need to wait,” she said.

The bill was originally supposed to apply to all hospitals in the state, but was later restricted to Cedars-Sinai and Scripps Memorial. It is particularly beneficial for Cedars-Sinai, which broke ground on a new $350-million outpatient building in 2009. Cardiac catheterization is one of the procedures it expected to be able to perform there.

The building is scheduled to open in late 2013. If the bill hadn’t passed on Friday, legislative rules would have made it unlikely the change could take effect until the beginning of 2014.

“In the past few weeks, it became clear that new legislation is necessary to meet patients’ needs for outpatient cardiac catheterization services,” said Sally Stewart, a spokeswoman for Cedars-Sinai.

Scripps Memorial is in the planning stages for its own new outpatient building.

Scripps President and Chief Executive Chris Van Gorder said expanding the procedures at two hospitals was the right way to start.

“The state is getting an opportunity to evaluate two very good programs,” he said. “I suspect the state will expand it to the other hospitals as well under the same regulations.”