With its sunny hallways and walls lined with paintings, glass collages, and metalwork, the new North Carolina Heart and Vascular Hospital feels more like its neighbor, the NC Museum of Art, than a traditional health center.

BY JANE PORTER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOE REALE

The facility on UNC Rex’s busy west Raleigh campus features high ceilings, tall windows, amenities such as a heart-healthy Mediterranean café, and spacious rooms with showers, fold-out beds, and sprawling city views. It’s a far cry from the fluorescent lights and chaotic corridors of the health care institutions of yesterday, but for all its beauty, the hospital was designed with the foremost purpose of maximizing efficiency, with an eye toward the future.

“This project was made up of millions of little things that we get really excited about,” says Chad Lefteris, Rex’s convivial vice president, during a tour of the facility one May morning. “We turned what was going to be an interesting space into an intriguing space. I love that people want to come here and just walk around.”

Designed by the national firm EYP Health and built by Skanska, the 306,000 square foot hospital opened in mid-March at a total cost of $235 million. The building consolidates heart health care services that previously were spread all across the campus, streamlining care for patients and doctors. During the design process, several Rex cardiologists toured heart hospitals across the country, observing best practices and returning with their input.

“You feel a sense of accomplishment when something you worked hard to see happen finally does happen,” says Dr. James Zidar, an interventional cardiologist at Rex. “Those are the things that you cherish the most, especially with something of this magnitude and level of commitment. We put a lot of hours into it.”

With 114 private patient rooms, the facility is the largest of its kind in the Southeast. It serves patients from Wake and its surrounding counties, where the population is growing rapidly – and aging – as well as patients from across the region, where diets rich in fried food and more widespread tobacco use have contributed to high rates of heart disease. Patients have plenty of space to move around and visit with family, and they enjoy access to resources such as healthy cooking classes with professional chefs.

Doctors, nurses, and other care team members are pleased with an enhanced work environment as well.

Large conference rooms offer space for cardiologists to continue learning, to train alongside physicians from all over the nation and abroad, and to work with them remotely via teleconference. New catheterization and electrophysiology labs are more spacious, to safely accommodate large pieces of equipment that won’t be getting smaller anytime soon. Nurses can easily search a new electronic inventory, and they have access to work stations on two floors.

“This new facility has allowed us to be more effective at providing the best clinical care, to advance the field with research initiatives, and to teach others what we have learned,” says Dr. George Adams, an interventional cardiologist and the director of peripheral vascular research at Rex Hospital. “We have over a hundred clinical research trials that offer patients treatment modalities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

In the spirit of the efficiency that built the Heart and Vascular Hospital, plans are in the works to adapt old spaces used for heart health care for much-needed behavioral health care services.

Mike Brailsford, the energy operations manager at Rex and a self-taught woodworker, repurposed 20 oak trees bulldozed during construction for tables for the hospital’s café, Kardia. And the hospital will continue to collect work and commission pieces from North Carolina artists using money from the Rex Healthcare Foundation’s donors, as studies continue to underscore links between art and healing.

“Hospital construction is very expensive, so you don’t want to just say, ‘let’s make this bigger,” says Lefteris, Rex’s VP. “We did an excellent job of being good stewards of resources and dollars to right-size the building, not only for today, but for future growth.”

A New Partnership Between WakeMed and Duke Health

Now, Wake County patients have more options than ever before for heart health care services.

Following more than two years of discussions Duke Health and WakeMed partnered to bring together all of the heart services, providers, and facilities from both entities into a single shared vision, Heart Health Plus+. The service also began in March and has a primary focus on patients living throughout Wake County.

The partnership offers a broader scope of care and treatment innovation through the sharing of best practices and evidence-based experiences, as well as expedited screening and access to clinical trials through Duke Clinical Research, says Kristin Kelly Gruman, a spokesperson for WakeMed. Patients have seamless access to specialized surgical interventions and technologies, such as transplantation, at Duke Hospital.

“As health systems continue to focus on improving the care and value we deliver to our patients, working together can help us all achieve greater coordination of care and clinical quality,” says Donald Gintzig, WakeMed’s president and CEO. “As leaders in our respective areas of expertise, both Duke and WakeMed have the opportunity to learn a great deal from one another – all in the best interest of our patients and the care we deliver together.”