UNC Rex set to open $235M heart center

UNC Rex opens new heart center

In 2017, UNC Rex Health Care opened a $235 million heart hospital in Raleigh, the North Carolina Heart & Vascular Hospital. The eight-story, 306,000 square foot facility has 114 patient rooms.
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In 2017, UNC Rex Health Care opened a $235 million heart hospital in Raleigh, the North Carolina Heart & Vascular Hospital. The eight-story, 306,000 square foot facility has 114 patient rooms.

UNC Rex Health Care is set to unveil its newly-completed $235 million heart hospital with a public open house on Saturday before the 8-story facility opens on Monday to start doing heart bypasses, vascular surgeries and stent insertions.

The wing-shaped N.C. Heart & Vascular Hospital is the culmination of a decision by two dozen heart and vascular doctors to join Rex as full-time employees nearly seven years ago. The doctors had practiced largely at cross-town rival WakeMed Health & Hospitals, delivering millions of dollars of revenue, and their defection set Rex on a course toward attaining regional dominance in lucrative heart procedures.

Today those doctors are now part of a team of 50 heart and vascular specialists at Rex who will work in operating rooms that double as training auditoriums, and whose recovering patients will be served by Rex’s award-winning gourmet chefs. On Wednesday, workers were still moving equipment, polishing floors and making preparations for Monday’s opening.

“There is no other heart and vascular hospital on the Eastern seaboard of this caliber,” said Ravish Sachar, one of the doctors who joined Rex in 2010. Doctors don’t do heart transplants at Rex Hospital, but Sachar said for the complexity of the cases they do handle the new facility is as good as any on the East Coast.

To counter UNC Rex’s expansion, Duke Health and WakeMed recently announced they would launch a combined heart service in Wake County that will enable sharing of each others' patients, doctors and facilities.

N.C. Heart & Vascular Hospital represents an unstoppable trend in the health care industry. As medical costs rise for patients year after year, hospitals compete to attract patients and top doctors with state-of-the-art technology and spa-like amenities.

Rex officials expect the hospital’s Kardia café to become a dining destination for area residents. The hospital’s donor-funded art collection features original paintings, textiles and sculptures. The demonstration kitchen will offer daily culinary classes that can be beamed to patients’ rooms like a TV cooking show.

The heart center consolidates what had been eight fragmented work zones spread over 1 million square feet, some separated by a half mile of hospital corridors, into one facility less than one-third the size. Two large hybrid operating rooms will allow physicians to perform a complex surgery, such as a bypass, and vascular procedures at the same time, rather than scheduling separate surgerical dates.

Not everyone is applauding the construction boom. Duke University business and law professor Barak Richman said capital projects like Rex’s new heart center are emblematic of the industry’s excesses.

“We have Taj Mahal buildings and they do not necessarily contribute to better outcomes and they definitely contribute to higher costs,” Richman said. “This is not a trend that is good for America.”

To get the heart center approved by state regulators, Rex officials had to demonstrate that they were spending $235 million wisely even though they were not adding capacity, but merely relocating 114 patient beds. Their case was based on the efficiencies of clustering the heart specialists, life-saving equipment and patients in one area.

Sachar and his colleague Mohit Pasi said the waiting time between procedures will be cut to 20 minutes from as much as an hour, which will prevent some patients having to wait overnight at the hospital for their procedure. As a result, Rex officials and doctors predict that the 6,500-7,000 procedures performed annually will increase, helping the heart center pay for itself.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski