UK HealthCare

Gill Affiliate Network celebrates 10 years of delivering advanced heart care across Kentucky

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 9, 2024) — The Gill Heart & Vascular Institute Affiliate Network at UK HealthCare is celebrating its 10th year of bringing cardiovascular specialists and local providers together to deliver expert, comprehensive heart care to patients throughout Kentucky.

Officially established in 2014, the UK Gill Affiliate Network now boasts 23 affiliate hospitals across the Commonwealth, from Pike County to McCracken County. The network allows the Gill Heart & Vascular Institute to work closely with regional hospitals to provide the highest quality of cardiovascular care.

Following the success of the previously established Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network and the UK HealthCare/Norton Healthcare Stroke Care Network, the need was identified to connect UK HealthCare cardiovascular experts and specialists with providers in local hospitals.

"The establishment of the cardiovascular network was a natural next step following the success of the Markey and Stroke initiatives," said Justin Campbell, chief network development officer at UK HealthCare. “With a growing number of affiliate hospitals seeking assistance with cardiovascular services, we saw the opportunity to create a comprehensive network that would not only support existing cardiovascular programs, but also foster the development of new cardiac services across communities."

Within the first few years, hospitals that were already in UK HealthCare’s other networks joined the Gill Affiliate Network to expand cardiovascular care. Those early years, Campbell recalls, were spent fielding requests from hospitals statewide for assistance with equipment, setting up services and training staff. Word of these services spread to other hospitals, and soon there were more requests as well as the opportunity to expand.

"Our mission is to help hospitals enhance patient care," said Navin Rajagopalan, M.D., director of the Gill Affiliate Network. "We work directly with hospitals, helping them establish vital programs like cath labs, imaging programs, and heart failure clinics. This enhances their ability to recruit cardiologists, ensuring patients receive specialized care in their own community."

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Kentucky, and many local and regional facilities often experience shortages of staff, equipment and subspecialty cardiac care  to manage the influx of patients with complex cardiac conditions. Patients referred to UK HealthCare may not have the resources to travel hours to be seen by the necessary experts. By working with local providers as well as having UK physicians travel to hospitals and expanding telemedicine access, patients can get the comprehensive care they need without going far from home. Campbell and Rajagopalan traveled across the state, meeting with physicians and administrators to promote the idea of a network of expert care.

"From the outset, our goal was simple: to improve health care for all Kentuckians," said Campbell. "We knew collaboration was key, and Dr. Rajagopalan's message of partnership resonated with other physicians. His credibility, coupled with the tangible successes of our early partners, fostered a sense of trust and excitement for the network's potential impact on the state's healthcare landscape."

Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH), which operates 14 hospitals in Eastern Kentucky, joined the network with the hopes of improving cardiac care in rural Appalachia.

“Patients in rural areas often do have issues with the travel to receive a higher level of care, and it is often hard to recruit physicians to work in rural areas,” said Lorri Burgess, cardiac service line director of ARH. “Being part of the UK network has given ARH an edge on this by having the resources of UK available at all times.”

Through the network, specialists from the Gill Heart & Vascular Institute facilitate specialized education and training initiatives for network providers and staff, ensuring they are equipped with the latest cardiovascular knowledge. Members of the Gill Affiliate Network also benefit from remote access to cardiovascular educational resources, complimentary participation in conferences, and personalized support from the Gill Affiliate Network team to address needs across the entire cardiovascular spectrum. Moreover, the network plays a vital role in helping cardiovascular programs attain and uphold subspecialty accreditations, fostering growth and development of cardiac programs.

As the Gill Affiliate Network expanded its reach across the state, a growing demand emerged for assistance with cardiovascular imaging, a burgeoning specialty in the field of cardiology. In response to this need, the Gill Imaging Network was established. Through this network, cardiovascular imaging experts at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute partner with community hospitals to interpret various imaging modalities, such as echocardiograms, nuclear stress imaging, cardiac CTA, and cardiac MRI, on a full-time or part-time basis. By leveraging the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute imaging team, patients can access state-of-the-art cardiac imaging without leaving home, and hospitals can trust that their patients receive cutting-edge, high-quality care from the state’s leading imaging experts. Last year alone, cardiovascular imaging experts at UK interpreted over 1,500 images from hospitals across eastern, central, and western Kentucky through the Gill Imaging Network.

Cliff Wilson, CEO of Georgetown Community Hospital (GCH) and president of Lifepoint Health’s market in Central Kentucky, lauds the collaboration with UK HealthCare, from the professional development for staff to the convenience for patients to have routine follow-up care at their local hospital. Lifepoint Health includes Clark Regional Medical Center, Georgetown Community Hospital, Bluegrass Community Hospital and Bourbon Community Hospital – all of which are part of the Gill Affiliate Network.

“GCH had collaborated closely with UK on several other service lines, so it was a natural fit to join the Gill Network,” he said. “The providers and staff have benefited greatly from the professional educational opportunities provided by UK as part of this relationship. From scheduled, recurring education, to on-demand, as-needed, very specific educational needs to ensure patients have the best possible care and outcomes.”

This support is overseen by Rajagopalan and Rebecca Craft, director of cardiovascular outreach operations for the Gill Affiliate Network. Craft spearheads the development and implementation of comprehensive training and education programs, connects local physicians with Gill specialists through regular seminars and symposiums and maintains an impressive database of connection points with affiliates. The continuous growth of this data showcases the deepening engagement hospitals have with the network, thereby positively influencing patient care and serving as the cornerstone of the network's future endeavors.

With 23 affiliate hospitals covering central, eastern, and western Kentucky, the future of the network is dedicated to advancing the quality of patient care. The recent appointment of a quality director marks a pivotal step in this journey. The quality director will collaborate with hospitals to gather data across key cardiac metrics, generating a scorecard highlighting each hospital's performance within the network.

Craft underscored the collaborative nature of this initiative by expressing, "When one hospital excels in a particular aspect of care where another encounters challenges, we can establish connections between them. This facilitates a valuable exchange of information, fostering shared learning opportunities."

This strategic coordination aims to leverage the collective strengths of network hospitals, ultimately enhancing the overall quality of care provided. Campbell, Rajagopalan, Craft and the rest of the network staff continue to look for ways to improve and expand the services to physicians across the Commonwealth. The feedback from affiliate members has been invaluable in terms of ways to improve patient care.

"Improving the lives of Kentuckians through better cardiac care is our shared mission," Rajagopalan said. "We value the trust each Gill Affiliate Network member places in us, and we're dedicated to working alongside them to strengthen programs, improve outcomes, and ultimately, build a healthier Kentucky."

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.