When it comes to the heart, the new Simcoe Muskoka Regional Heart Program is a lifesaver.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins were on hand on Jan. 17 at the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie to help celebrate the opening of the new 16-bed, 14,300 square-foot unit that includes two rooms featuring first-in-Canada technology to perform cardiac angiograms and angioplasty.

“When it comes to the heart, time is muscle,” explained Janice Skot, RVH president and CEO. “Having advanced cardiac services available at RVH will not only be a game changer for heart patients in our region, it will be (a) lifesaver.”

Skot noted the program was developed with feedback from RVH’s hospital and paramedic partners, as well as the perspective of the cardiac Patient Family Advisory Council.

“The RVH has been advocating, planning and building this program for over a decade,” Skot added. The $15 million program was paid for by the community and the province. North Simcoe Muskoka patients will no longer be required to travel to Newmarket for care.

“No matter where you live in Ontario, if you or a loved one suffers from a heart attack you want access to care as soon as possible.” Wynne said. “We know the first 90 minutes are critical. That’s why we are supporting the new Simcoe Muskoka Regional Heart Program at RVH. Simply put, it will give patients in and across North Simcoe Muskoka a better chance not only at surviving, but getting back on their feet and back home to their family and friends.”

For Dr. Hoskins, ensuring the right care is available closer to home can make a big difference for people with heart disease.

“It’s saving time and saving time means saving lives,” the he said.

Dr. Mark Kotowycz, RVH medical director of interventional cardiology, agrees. Until now, North Simcoe Muskoka was the only region in the province without and advanced cardiac centre. That meant heart patients had to travel to centres outside the region for heart procedures every year.

“In 2020 the heart program will operate 24/7 and paramedics will begin transporting North Simcoe Muskoka heart patients directly to RVH for treatment, bypassing other local emergency departments,” he said. “Having these advanced cardiac services available at RVH means most patients in North Simcoe Muskoka will be able to get lifesaving intervention within 90 minutes of a heart attack.”

The RVH specialized cardiac team has already begun providing advanced care in the state-of-the-art unit, performing 15 angiograms, a test to detect blockages in the heart arteries, in the past week. In the fall, RVH will expand its cardiac services to include angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure that opens up a clogged heart artery.

The local hospital says it’s important to note that not all cardiac services will be available to all patients right away. Complex cases will continue to be referred to other cardiac centres.

Others on hand for the official opening of the Cardiac Intervention Unit included Barrie MPP Ann Hoggarth and Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman.

In the photo, on hand for the official ribbon cutting inside the procedure room of the Cardiac Intervention Unit were (l-r) Nancy Savage, Patient and Family Experience executive vice president; Michael O’Keefe, RVH Board of Directors chairperson; Janice Skot, RVH president and CEO; Jeff Lehman, Barrie mayor; The Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care; Ann Hoggarth, Barrie MPP; Rolland Desjardins, first patient at the unit; The Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario.