Red Bank’s Riverview Medical Center is one of three hospitals in New Jersey eligible to join a controversial nationwide study of artery-clearing angioplasty despite their lack of dedicated cardiac surgery facilities, today’s Star-Ledger reports.

State Health Commissioner Heather Howard cleared the continuation and expansion of the program over the objections of hospitals with heart surgery units.

From the Sledger:

The state’s highly competitive and cash-strapped hospital industry had anxiously awaited the decision. The study, led by Johns Hopkins University, seeks to determine whether elective angioplasty can be performed safely in hospitals that are not licensed for heart surgery.

Heart-hospital executives have vigorously opposed the study, arguing it puts patients at risk unnecessarily. They say it also threatens the fiscal viability of facilities with heart surgery programs by allowing patients to go elsewhere for non-emergency angioplasty.

Howard said yesterday New Jersey should remain involved in the ground-breaking research. “New Jersey, as a densely populated and diverse state, has much to offer and much to gain from participating,” she said in a letter to 22 hospitals that sought to join the study.

The study began in 2006 with nine New Jersey hospitals. But after three cardiac hospitals sued to halt the study, the state Supreme Court ruled last year the health department had to adopt rules outlining how hospitals are selected. That opened the door to a new round of applications.

Hospitals approved to continue participating in the study are Bayonne Medical Center; Raritan Bay Medical Center, Perth Amboy; Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center, Hamilton; Somerset Medical Center, Somerville; Trinitas Hospital, Elizabeth; Virtua West Jersey Hospital, Marlton; and Holy Name Hospital, Teaneck. Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch was originally in the study but not renewed.

Newly eligible to join are JFK Medical Center in Edison (taking the place of sister hospital Muhlenberg in Plainfield, which closed this summer); Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville; Community Medical Center, Toms River; Overlook Hospital, Summit; and Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank…

So far in New Jersey the study has enrolled 2,188 patients, who consented to be assigned randomly to either a hospital participating in the clinical trial or a cardiac surgery center.

Health Department spokeswoman Marilyn Riley said neither Johns Hopkins nor the participating hospitals have reported any safety problems. “The quality and safety of the project have been reviewed by a Data Safety Monitoring Board at Johns Hopkins, which has found that there were no safety concerns in New Jersey,” Riley said.

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