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Citrus hospital seeks okay for heart unit

Citrus Memorial Hospital wants state permission to provide cardiac catheterization, a technique used to find blockages in the heart's arteries. The hospital board of trustees agreed Tuesday to send a letter of intent to the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), the first step in the application process. HRS determines whether there is a need for the service in the area.

If approved, a cardiac catheterization unit could be set up by the summer of 1991, hospital administrator Charles Blasband told the board. He estimated the equipment and building renovation would cost $2-million.

In cardiac catheterization, small tubes, or catheters, are inserted into the heart's arteries for diagnosis. Another cardiac catheterization technique can restore the flow of blood in an artery.

The closest hospitals offering the service are in Ocala and New Port Richey. Leesburg Regional Medical Center recently received approval to set up a unit, but cannot move ahead until a dispute between HRS and Seven Rivers Community Hospital in Crystal River is resolved, said Seven Rivers administrator Michael Heindel.

An administrative hearing for Seven Rivers is scheduled in March. Lykes Memorial Hospital in Brooksville, which applied at the same time as Seven Rivers and Leesburg, was rejected.

Citrus Memorial projects that it would provide 299 cardiac catheterizations in it first year, rising to 514 in 1992 and to 603 in 1995. Blasband said that 300 is near the break-even point and 500 is a level at which a program can be run successfully run.

The meeting Tuesday was the last for the board of trustees as the governing body of the hospital. Next month, a non-profit group will take over operation of the hospital as part of the change from public to private management.

The move will save the hospital an estimated $4-million over the next five years by allowing it to switch from a state retirement plan to a private one.

The board will retain ownership of the hospital property and lease it to a private group, the Citrus County Health Foundation. The foundation comprises the trustees and four other individuals.

The foundation and the board are expected to give final approval to the new arrangement Monday. It will take effect March 1.