A flurry of new health care facilities have opened – or are in the works – and offer more care and treatment options for Northern Kentucky residents.

For example, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the dominant provider with six hospitals and more than 1,200 physicians, will break ground in November on its new $30 million Heart and Vascular Institute at its Edgewood campus.

The 39,000 square-foot addition to the hospital’s main building is designed to create a comprehensive center offering the most up-to-date heart and vascular care, prevention and research, says John S. Dubis, St. Elizabeth president and CEO.

“We have, frankly, the best heart program in Greater Cincinnati,” he says, carrying a three-star rating from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, something only about 15 percent of the hospitals in the country have achieved.

St. Elizabeth’s has done more than 15,000 open-heart operations over the last 30 years. It has about 50 physicians in its system focused on heart and vascular treatment.

“This was an initiative to make sure we have a truly comprehensive program for cardiac and vascular care in Greater Cincinnati,” says Dubis.

Dr. Victor Schmelzer, medical director of cardiac surgery and interim director of the institute, says, “This is something we’re all very passionate about. It didn’t spring up as a response to the market, but it’s something we’ve been in the process of working on for well over a decade.”

St. Elizabeth is also drawing on its affiliation with the famed Mayo Clinic in laying groundwork for the institute.

“It really gives us a big brother,” says Dr. Schmelzer, “providing us with a lot of support and consultative services to work through some of the processes for the institute.”

There’s definitely a need. Kentucky’s heart attack rate is the fourth worst in the country.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of room for improvement,” says Dr. Schmelzer. “Vascular and heart disease has big impact not only on lives of citizens of Northern Kentucky but also their productivity.”

The three-story addition to the hospital’s D-wing is slated for completion in early 2015 and will include renovations to existing space and operating rooms to make them more functional.

“What this does is make care more patient-centric,” says Gary Blank, chief nursing and patient service officer. “Making sure the patient is getting the right provider, reducing the duplication of services that can occur, and enhancing communication between care-givers. It makes the whole process more efficient.”

At the same time, St. Elizabeth is expanding its outpatient facilities with new medical offices.

In January, St. Elizabeth will open a 50,000 square-foot medical office bulding at 1360 Grand Ave. in Newport, just over the Fort Thomas city line, as part of an initiative to improve care to Ft. Thomas and the Campbell county area.

The $6 million facility will provide primary care, urgent care, OB-GYN services, ultrasound, cardiolology treatment and vascular testing.

“We’re really focused on trying to improve the accessibility as well as the cost to the patient for care they receive,” says Dubis.

As part of that effort, St. Elizabeth also has purchased three urgent care centers in Florence, Hebron and Covington from Hometown Urgent Care.

They join St. Elizabeth Express Care Center in Highland Heights in offering treatment for common illnesses without an appointment and are linked to St. Elizabeth Physicians medical records system.

Another Express Care location is planned for Independence early next year.

“We’re increasing the accessibility of care and lowering the cost,” says Dubis. “That’s the way we should do things and that’s how health care is being transformed.”

Three things are driving the growth of new health care facilities in Northern Kentucky, according to Vic DiPilla, chief development officer for The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati.

“One is the growing population in Northern Kentucky, especially Boone County which is the fastest growing county in Kentucky,” he says.

Boone County’s population is expected to increase 14 percent by 2015 and another 14 percent between 2015 and 2020 to 153,933.

“That means a need for services for a growing population,” DiPilla says.

Additionally, he says, “Consumers like the idea of having choice. That’s one way to access the highest quality care… With health care reform the idea is to have an integrated system with outpatient facilities for your population to minimize readmission rates and unnecessary admissions. It’s all about how you keep people aligned with your system and maintain quality programs.”

Eighteen months ago Christ Hospital opened its first Northern Kentucky outpatient center at 1949 Dixie Highway, Fort Wright, in a former Stein Mart location. The 44,000 square-foot facility, offers cardiovascular care and screening, family medicine, diagnostic imaging, X-ray, screening mammography and general ultrasound, wound healing, and obstetrics and gynecology. Christ expects to receive state approval soon for addition of an MRI system at the Fort Wright location.

“The patient response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Dr. Rita Watkins, family medicine practioner at the Fort Wright center. She says patients like having a choice but crossing the Ohio River can be a big obstacle, particularly when they’re ill.

“It does improve overall care in the sense patients don’t have to navigate all around the city to have access to various specialists and those specialists and primary care physicians interact in the same building if a patient has special needs. It is so much easier to communicate,” says DiPilla.

UC Health also has received a certificate of need from the state for an $8.8 million ambulatory care clinic at 58 Cavalier Blvd. in Florence. The three-story, 42,000 square-foot facility would employ at least 10 physicians initially and serve more than 30,000 patients after opening in 2015.

It’s not just hospitals adding facilities. Sharonville-based Beacon Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, a growing independent practice, is adding its first Northern Kentucky location at 600 Rodeo Drive, Erlanger in October.

Glenn Prasser, Beacon CEO, says Northern Kentucky is a growing market. “Our belief is people want a choice in their health care.”

Beacon invested about $1 million in the 12,000 square-foot building, its fifth location in the Tristate, including a clinic, physical therapy and imaging services. The staff of 25 includes Dr. Michael Rohmiller, a spine surgeon who makes his home and has been practicing medicine in Northern Kentucky for years.

Since 2009, Beacon has grown from 12 physicians practicing at three locations, to 20 physicians seeing patients at five locations including both Indiana and now Kentucky.