NCH Healthcare System plans a bold, new vision for its NCH Heart Institute in downtown Naples. NCH is asking the city to accommodate its hospital redevelopment plans by creating a special downtown community hospital district that would permit a six-story cardiac center.
“We appreciate the city’s willingness to establish a new hospital district and zoning standards that would allow Naples to have world-class health care services,” NCH President and CEO Paul Hiltz told city officials at a city council workshop meeting this week. “As Naples and the surrounding communities grow and evolve, health care services will need to grow and evolve as well.”
If the city approves the creation of the downtown community hospital district, NCH would demolish its three-story Telford Education Center at 350 7th St. N. and replace it with a building proposed to be about 100 feet tall for the $150 million NCH Heart Institute on its Downtown Baker Hospital campus. The specific project development plan would be brought back before city officials in fall 2022, Hiltz said. The existing 80-foot hospital building targeted for demolition was constructed prior to the city’s recent charter amendment and 42-foot height limitation and already exceeds the 30-foot height limit in the city’s M-Medical district.
NCH frames its plans as one of the largest and most significant undertakings since the local hospital opened 65 years ago. The hospital system envisions creating a health care destination for patients in need of cardiac care. “We are focused on growing the services we offer our community by staying abreast of the latest medical advances and continuing our tradition of being one of the leading cardiac institutions in the state and nation,” according to a report NCH presented this week during the public workshop.
NCH is planning to build a freestanding, state-of-the-art heart center for complete cardiac care led by NCH Heart Institute President Dr. Robert Cubeddu, who was recruited by NCH this spring from the Cleveland Clinic Florida, where he was chairman of cardiology. He has plans to make NCH’s cardiovascular line a nationally top-ranked program and a destination for cardiac care. The vision is to create a destination for cardiovascular care so that patients don’t have to leave Collier County.
While working for the last six years at the Cleveland Clinic, especially known for its cardiac excellence, Cubeddu noticed how scores of patients from Southwest Florida were traveling to the east coast of Florida for cardiac care. “I always thought there was a unique opportunity to retain the exodus and, clearly, an opportunity to provide a higher level of care here to avoid the exodus and the need for care elsewhere,” he says. “So, it resonated really well when I heard from Paul and the board that they really wanted to do something special.”
Cubeddu said the project is greatly needed here and will leave a legacy for the community. “When it’s 2 a.m. and you have a stroke or it’s 3 a.m. and you have a heart attack, you really want to be able to go to a center of excellence. You don’t have time to think or choose where you go next.”
Cubeddu said he and his NCH team are trying to create something special in local health care. “It’s not only the clinical force and the outcomes related to that, but it’s also the education, the research that comes with building a center of excellence,” he says. “At the end of the day, what we’re trying to create is an integrated model through a heart center and an institute that allows us to enhance the quality of care and, more importantly, the patient journey, the patient experience.”
The new building would be part of the strategy to create a designated, comprehensive heart center where the care would be integrated in one model. Patients now may have to visit 10 different places to get the care they need, Cubeddu said. “Currently, the existing footprint is somewhat disjointed. We have offices in different buildings,” he says.
NCH’s downtown campus occupies nearly 22.5 acres between Fourth Avenue North and Second Avenue North and between Sixth Street North and U.S. 41, with additional properties on the north side of Fourth Avenue North. The existing hospital was originally constructed in the 1970s and has undergone additions and renovations since then. The property containing the Briggs Wellness Center and parking garage on the east side of Seventh Street North was rezoned to create the Naples Community Hospital Planned Development in 1990 and subsequently developed accordingly, city staff reports.
Naples-based engineering firm Hole Montes worked with NCH to draft a community hospital zoning district. The new zoning district proposes general development standards such as permitted and conditional uses, minimum lot area and width, required yards, maximum height and lot coverage, as well as specific regulations for signage, parking, fences and walls. Action steps for the rezoning proposal still require returning for another city council workshop before a hearing is scheduled with the city’s planning advisory board, followed by two public hearings before city council.
Providing cardiac care for more than 50 years, NCH has one of the top coronary artery bypass surgical programs in the nation. The NCH Heart Institute is home to the first and only open-heart surgery program in Collier County. Decades after performing its first angioplasty and open-heart program in 1987, NCH now completes hundreds of open-heart procedures each year and thousands of total procedures. In 1990, NCH implanted its first permanent pacemaker, and by the end of that decade started Code Save-A-Heart, a nationally recognized program that continues today./