“Doing it right for the right reasons.” That’s the way Steve Lawler, president of Pitt County Memorial Hospital, describes East Carolina Heart Institute.
A partnership of the hospital and East Carolina University, the $210 million Heart Institute combines world-class cardiovascular surgery and inpatient and outpatient care with university research, medical training and public education. “The partnership between our medical center and East Carolina University is something that makes us strong, it’s something that makes us different in the market, and it’s something that adds value to the region because we’re both committed from a mission perspective to service,” Lawler says. The Heart Institute is the brainchild of Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood, a world-recognized surgeon who envisioned “a seamlessness between cardiology and cardiovascular surgery." “This is a model I thought a long time ago would be ideal but nearly impossible to do,” Chitwood says.
“As far as I know, this is the first one in the United States that has a set up like this – a department and a building dedicated to cardiovascular science.” The Heart Institute is comprised of two buildings – the ECU building, which houses outpatient treatment, research laboratories, education facilities and offices, and the hospital's Pitt County seven-story bed tower. Cardiovascular disease accounts for 40 percent of all deaths in North Carolina. In eastern North Carolina, the mortality rate from coronary disease is 12.9 percent higher than the rest of the state.
Chitwood attributes the region’s startling statistics to “a combination of factors” that include a population medically underserved, a lack of public education, dietary failings and the prominence of tobacco. Keeping track of how such patients are treated and their outcomes is a passion of Chitwood’s. Thus, he foresees the Heart Institute as the heart of what could become a statewide database to track the management of cardiovascular disease. “This will allow us to coalesce our databases so we can really look at quality of care across the service line,” he says.