Citizen Staff Writer
Until recently, people suffering a stroke, brain tumor or some other neurological condition or illness often ventured far beyond southern Arizona to find the right care.
The Carondelet Health Network on Sunday will mark the end of that “glaring gap in coverage,” neurosurgeon Eric Sipos said.
Sipos is medical director of nearly complete Carondelet Neurological Institute, a series of facilities clustered on the campus of St. Joseph’s Hospital that will provide round-the-clock or specialized care for 2,100 or more patients a year.
Though Carondelet will officially open the institute this weekend, its 42-bed surgical center began taking patients in May 2008.
A $14 million surgical suite linked by a mobile CT scanner – the first of its kind in North America – will allow neurosurgeons to record images of patients’ brains during operations without having to move them to other areas of the hospital.
“What we do for the brain and spine is hard to see,” Sipos explained.
Carondelet’s new BrainLAB iCT suite means “we can get as many scans as we want during an operation,” he said.
The mobile scanner stands in a sterile area between the two operating rooms. Surgeons open a set of double doors to access the device, which can move along rails around a patient.
The institute’s doctors can use other state-of-the-art technological devices to treat their patients, including a $4 million linear accelerator to perform stereotactic radiosurgery. The machine, which sits inside a $1.2 million protective concrete vault, uses beams of radiation to destroy tumors inside the brain.
“Yes, there has been phenomenal new technology employed right here in our own backyard,” Sipos said.
Access to the latest technology and comprehensive facilities likely will draw top-notch neurosurgeons and other specialists to St. Joseph’s, according to Andy Cosentino, executive for neurosciences at Carondelet.
In addition to doctors from Western Neurosurgery Ltd., who will practice at the institute, the Carondelet facility will employ 114 nurses and therapists. “You’re looking for a subset in a tight labor market, so we had to look far and broad,” Cosentino said.
In the past, “it was a hit or miss that you would find a neurosurgeon (in the area) on call at a given moment,” he added.
Cosentino anticipates that the Carondelet institute will draw patients and physicians from other areas to Tucson. The equipment now available at Carondelet carries too high a price tag for many hospitals, especially those in rural areas.
St. Joseph’s still must complete an interventional neuroradiological suite near its emergency department, Cosentino said.
Doctors using the suite will treat aneurysms and other neurological emergencies.
Carondelet spent $38 million creating the neurological institute, which includes facilities on the fifth floor of the hospital’s women’s center and in other areas on the St. Joseph’s campus, 350 N. Wilmot Road.
The neurological institute “does relieve other hospitals and increase the level of available care,” said Robert Goldfarb, a neurosurgeon and chairman of the Carondelet institute.
More important, critical minutes and hours won’t be wasted transporting patients to facilities in Phoenix, Flagstaff or in other states, Goldfarb said. “That need has been there some time.”
The availability of round-the-clock care also has the advantage of allowing patients to stay close to home, family and friends, Sipos added. “The reason we’ve done this is because of the patients we take care of.”
CARONDELET NEUROLOGICAL INSTITUTE
What: First facility in region to offer comprehensive neurological care
Where: On campus at St. Joseph’s Hospital, 350 N. Wilmot Road
Cost: $38 million
Amenities: 42-bed inpatient center, three neurosurgical suites
Technology: Two-room iCT suite by BrainLAB includes mobile scanner, the first setup of its kind in North America; facility also has $4 million linear accelerator for use in stereotatic radiosurgery