A year after St. Vincent Healthcare shook up its heart and vascular services by ending a contract with the physician group that provided the services, the hospital has rounded out the hiring of more than a dozen new staff.

There are now more than 15 providers, including 10 physicians, working in the St. Vincent Healthcare Heart Institute in an effort that hospital leadership said opens up new services and procedures not previously available to patients while also allowing more people to receive care.

"We are building on that and expanding our programs," said Dr. William Knopf, chief of cardiovascular services. "Our vision is to be the best heart institute in the region. We're thinking big and broad, and we're getting these great people here."

Knopf was among the first to join in the new effort, coming from Georgia to the hospital in late 2015 to head up the new effort. Previously, the hospital contracted out with four physicians after it purchased the Montana Heart Institute in 2014.

St. Vincent decided to move into a different leadership model and bring the physicians in-house, which led to the decision to not renew the contract. One of those physicians, Dr. Robert Terry, decided to stay with the practice after the contract decision was made.

Since then, the center has brought in doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other medical staff with a wide range of experience from all over the country. The doctors include cardiologists, cardiac and vascular surgeons, an electrophysiologist and an imaging and echocardiography specialist.

"We now have a full complement of surgeons that can perform nearly every procedure you'd find anywhere across the country," said Dr. Michelle Ellis, chief of cardiovascular surgery, who previously worked as a cardiothoracic surgeon at MidMichigan Health.

Included in that new staff is Dr. Tas Saliaris, the new director of electrophysiology. Developing the program collaboratively with the rest of the staff, including members of the internal cardiology team, is a key component of the new efforts.

He said that with the hospital administration's support, including the availability of new and cutting-edge technology, patients now have access to new procedures and expertise they couldn't get before, including certain defibrillator and wireless pacemaker implants.

"We work together to figure out what's the best approach," Saliaris said. "It's been made very easy for us to get along."

Within the next six months, he also plans to have a center for atrial fibrillation ablation — a minimally invasive procedure to address a patient's irregular heartbeat, which can cause blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart problems — up and running within the program.

With the expanded resources, more staff and an increase in available procedures, along with a centerwide effort to see patients as soon as possible 24 hours a day, the physicians are seeing more and more patients.

Ellis said members of the team have opened up their schedules to ensure that patients don't wait long to see a physician, whether it's by appointment or a visit to the emergency room.

"We expect our growth to continue," Knopf said. "There are two ways to grow programs. One, you bring in the best staff. Second, you provide each patient with a quality experience so they become your best advocate."

With that, Knopf said he's seen a growth of around 25 to 30 percent, some of them dealing with issues more complex than what the hospital could previously handle.

That also plays into what many of the new staff described as a focus on providing a holistic experience that looks at any number of factors, using the expertise of people from all over the team.

"We meet two times a day as whole team," Knopf said. "We go over every patient that's been admitted."

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