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Southern California Hospital Heart Institute Expands to Provide Higher Level of Care to West Los Angeles


In the past six months, Southern California Hospital at Culver City has launched a number of new initiatives focused on improving the technology and services offered by the Heart Institute. Despite the recent challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Heart Institute has continued to move forward with upgrades to its cardiac care, such as a novel treatment system for heart failure and construction of a new catheterization lab.

“The goal has been to provide a higher quality level of care for the citizens of Culver City in a well-established hospital,” said Dr. Ernst von Schwarz, medical director of the Southern California Hospital at Culver City Heart Institute. “We want to offer the full spectrum of cardiovascular diagnostics and therapies to our community.”

A Breakthrough for Heart Failure

Back in April, Dr. Schwarz became the first doctor in California to implant a new device to treat patients with heart failure. The Optimizer® Smart System monitors the heart’s activity and delivers electrical signals to cardiac muscle cells at the right time to ensure the heart pumps enough blood to the body. It received a Breakthrough Device designation by the U.S. FDA in 2019, which speeds up the approval process and gives patients faster access to potentially life-saving treatment.

“We are the forefront of applying new devices such as the Optimizer®. I even have patients traveling 100 miles to have this procedure done,” said Dr. Schwarz. “We’ve performed the implantation on a small number of patients so far, but it’s definitely growing, and we’ve seen excellent results from these initial cases.”

While close to 6 million Americans suffer from heart failure, those with advanced disease who are already taking medication can’t do much else, aside from having an open-heart surgery to implant a mechanical pump. Implanting the Optimizer® is minimally invasive procedure that gives patients with chronic, moderate-to-severe heart failure a much-needed, safer option for treatment.

State-of-the-Art Cath Lab

Southern California Hospital at Culver City broke ground on a new cardiac catheterization lab in July, with plans to open by the end of 2020. The upgrade will eliminate the need to transport patients to a different hospital for more complex and critical procedures, where every second counts. It will be fully equipped with advanced imaging and computing instrumentation for both diagnostic and interventional procedures, which include coronary angiography, coronary angioplasty, stent placement, and electrophysiology testing.

The project completely overhauls an older lab with outdated technology, all the way down to the studs, replacing it with new flooring, walls, cabinetry, and equipment. Most notably, the new lab will feature a state-of-the-art medical imaging system called the Siemens Artis Q.zen, which provides enhanced visualization of blood vessels with a much lower dose of radiation than traditional X-ray machines.

Serving the Community with Telemedicine

Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Schwarz has offered telemedicine appointments for patients who feel more comfortable staying at home instead of coming to the hospital. While the Heart Institute remained open for in-person visits, many patients took advantage of this additional service, and he continues to conduct an average of six virtual appointments per day.

“We never closed the Heart Institute during the pandemic, but we did start to provide telemedicine options for patients who preferred to stay at home using either phone or video media,” he said. “It’s more convenient and safer for them, since they don’t have to travel or sit in the waiting room.”

People with existing medical conditions—including heart disease—remain at higher risk for coronavirus. Those with conditions like coronary heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure may be more susceptible to catching COVID-19 and developing more severe symptoms. Although the Heart Institute takes all appropriate protections for staff and patients, having a telemedicine option limits potential COVID-19 exposure for this high-risk group even further.

National Recognition

“We are proud to provide top-notch interventional cardiology procedures, even for critical cases. In fact, we have become a referral center for many outside hospitals that reject patients who are considered high-risk,” said Dr. Schwarz.

He hopes to add to the Heart Institute’s credentials even further by becoming accredited as a STEMI (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) Receiving Center by the American Heart Association. A STEMI is a severe heart attack. Our Receiving Center accreditation identifies hospitals with the capabilities to provide comprehensive care for the most deadly form of heart attack. For the last two years, Dr. Schwarz and his colleagues have been working toward the accreditation.

To make an appointment at the Heart Institute, click here. The telephone number is (310) 840-7089.