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Cedar Rapids Cardiology Clinic Picks St. Luke's; Upsets Mercy, Patients

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa After about 35 years of letting Cedar Rapids patients choose where they want to be seen, the largest cardiology clinic in Eastern Iowa has announced it only will provide care at St. Luke's Hospital.

Officials with UnityPoint Clinic-Cardiology, formerly known as Cardiologists, L.C., said the change will become effective June 1, allowing the group of cardiologists to focus on developing a "heart and vascular center of excellence."

The center will be based at St. Luke's Hospital, which acquired UnityPoint Clinic-Cardiology in 2010, and aims to offer specialized, state-of-the-art care so patients don't have to travel outside the Cedar Rapids area.

"Our goal and commitment is to build and implement a center for cardiac care that is the best in the community and the best in the region," said Todd Langager, physician and president of the Cedar Rapids-based UnityPoint Clinic-Cardiology. "By developing state-of-the-art cardiac care, we are going to improve options and provide better care," Langager said. "So it's to the patients' benefit."

But some patients and Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, where UnityPoint cardiologists used to provide service, are not happy with the change. And some patients say it feels oppressive.

"This has now become a dictatorship," said Donna Aljets, 61, of Marion, whose 35-year-old daughter sees a cardiologist with UnityPoint for a heart valve problem. "They are dictating where you have to go for care if you're a cardiology patient."

Aljets said her daughter, father and mother all have been seen by the same UnityPoint cardiologist over the years, someone she respects and trusts. But, Aljets said, she's not interested in switching hospitals. "I really want to see a doctor on this list that I have a lot of respect for, but now I don't have that option," she said. "And I think the backlash on this is going to be a lot bigger than they ever thought."

Aljets said her family probably will switch cardiologists because of UnityPoint's new exclusivity. And she blames politics and local competition. "They have forgotten what they are all about," she said. "It's not about how much money they can make."

Mercy officials say it takes away patient options at a time when patient-center care should take precedent.

Cam Campbell, cardiologist and medical director of the Cedar Rapids Heart Center, which still provides cardiology services at Mercy Medical Center, said Mercy doesn't support UnityPoint's exclusivity.

"We feel that putting patients at the center will drive better outcomes," Campbell said. "When you limit choices, you limit potential outcomes."

Campbell said patient-centered care thrives on communication and choices, and he doesn't believe any hospital can meet every need of every current or potential patient.

"When you tell patients you have to come here and we are having a center of excellence that can do everything, I beg your pardon," Campbell said. "I think second opinions are valuable."

Since UnityPoint's announcement, according to Campbell, Mercy has been "overwhelmed" with callers asking to transfer away from UnityPoint so they can continue going to Mercy.

Langager said St. Luke's has heard from several patients who have preferred Mercy in the past and are uncertain about the need for this change. He said some people expressed disappointment. But, he said, the majority are understanding and supportive.

At this point, he said, the number of patients who have decided to leave UnityPoint has been "quite minimal."

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