Atlanta Cardiology Group leaves St Joseph's for Piedmont Heart Institute

Shelley Wood

November 16, 2007

Atlanta, GA - In a move that is shaking up the cardiology community in Atlanta, almost the entire Atlanta Cardiology Group (ACG) is cutting ties with St Joseph's Hospital and joining Piedmont Healthcare, becoming a new group practice under the umbrella of the Piedmont Heart Institute, launched last month.

The influx of prominent names, including Dr Bill Knopf, a managing partner of ACG who is now the chief operating officer of the Piedmont Heart Institute, brings the number of cardiovascular physicians at Piedmont Hospital and its affiliates to 83. In all, 32 of 34 physicians, 26 of whom are cardiologists, are making the move to Piedmont; the six primary-care physicians in ACG making the move to Piedmont will join a primary-care group there. Two ACG physicians have opted to stay at St Joseph's, Knopf said.

"The major decision behind the move was to find the right strategic partner and a hospital to provide the best quality of care for Atlanta and the Southeast region," Knopf told heart wire . "It's not the number of cardiologists that matters, it's really the integrated approach to healthcare that's important and the effective partnering that the physicians and the hospital systems can do together. We tried to partner with St Joseph's, but they were unwilling to partner with our physicians in a way that we thought was important to provide the necessary quality of care to the community."

"Vision, not money"

The Atlanta Business Chronicle, reporting on the ACG move, quotes "a source familiar with the deal" who estimated that the acquisition of ACG, which the Chronicle says includes the group's share of an outpatient cath lab, to be worth "about $15 million."

However, VP of marketing and public relations for Piedmont, Nina Montanaro, insisted to heart wire that the move by ACG is "not about money, but vision," and pointed to other key improvements to cardiovascular care taking place at Piedmont, including the creation of a new physician group, the Piedmont Cardiovascular Physicians, of which the ACG will now be a part. She also clarified that the Piedmont Heart Institute is not a physical entity as much as it is a "collection of the best and brightest" cardiologists in the area working within the same "employment model."

In a quirky twist, ACG is the first physician group to officially join the institute, meaning that the other 50 or so cardiovascular physicians in the two cardiology groups already at Piedmont—Cardiology of Georgia and Cardiac Disease Specialists—are not officially a part of new institute, at least not yet. According to Knopf, "the other two groups are in careful discussions with Piedmont Healthcare and they're right on line to be come a part of this bigger entity in the first quarter of 2008."

All three groups have "historically" worked well together, Knopf added, pointing out that all three cardiology groups were involved in the creation of the Atlanta Cardiovascular Research Institute in 1999. "This really is just a natural progression of those types of affiliative relationships becoming more solidified," he said.

Quoted in a press release, Dr William S Knapp, also a managing partner of ACG, called the move "an excellent affiliation."

The new agreement between ACG and Piedmont came into effect November 15, 2007. The group will open a new main office on the Piedmont Hospital campus in December, although it will maintain offices "across Georgia."

Contacted by heart wire , a spokesperson at St Joseph's said that although hospital administrators are "disappointed" with the group's decision, St Joseph's still has at least 80 cardiologists and cardiovascular specialists of its own on staff.

"While certainly it's disappointing to have most of them leave, we'll be fine," media relations manager Lynn Peterson told heart wire . "They represented only about 6% of our cardiology business."

St Joseph's launched its own Heart and Vascular Institute last year and, according to Peterson, "those physicians are here and active and we've added new physicians every month."

She also noted that "some" of the ACG physicians will continue to see patients in the office the group has on St Joseph's campus. "I don't know that they'll be referring to St Joseph's any more, but they'll still see patients here for a while."

Asked about rumors that other prominent cardiologists are also toying with the idea of joining the Piedmont Heart Institute, Knopf said he "couldn't be specific" but acknowledged that "the model that we have created at the Piedmont Heart Institute is a model that physicians across the country are very enthusiastic about and that has engendered a number of physicians to at least explore opportunities for partnering and become a part of this institute as well. Certainly some of those physicians are key thought leaders in the cardiology community; there's no question about that."

ACG's affiliation with St Joseph's dates back decades; according to the group's website, the group was founded in 1967 by Dr Arnoldo Fiedotin and later became one of the first centers—in conjunction with St Joseph's—to perform coronary angioplasties in the Southeast.

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