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New county policy bypasses Mercy Medical Center for heart attack victims

Heart attack patients in Merced will now have a better chance of surviving — thanks to new policies enacted by Merced County.

Before the new protocol, heart attack victims were assessed by paramedics in the field, then taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced. Although some care could be given at Mercy, the hospital has no interventional heart-care capability, and the facility is not equipped to treat severe heart problems.

Heart attack victims often ended up being transferred to hospitals in Modesto or Fresno, after being treated in Merced.

But now those patients will be assessed by paramedics at the scene, then taken directly to Doctors’ Medical Center in Modesto. Before these policies, few patients were taken directly to Modesto because of the availability of ambulances from Riggs Ambulance.

“This is a program that has actually been around for about two years in the state and the nation,” said Chuck Baucom, the emergency medical services administrator for Merced County.

When paramedics from Riggs’ Ambulance believe they have a heart attack victim, a 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) is immediately done. If the patient meets severe heart attack standards, he’ll be transported immediately by ground ambulance to Modesto.

John Volanti, public health director for Merced County, said that a group consisting of health officials, local cardiologists and other health care providers met to finish the criteria for transporting patients to Modesto.

“This means that Merced County residents will continue to get the best care that they can get,” Volanti said.

Although this new protocol will only affect about six patients a month, for those six patients, going directly to Modesto may save their lives.

Volanti said that the county is still negotiating with Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, and he expects that hospital to be on board with the next month.

Baucom said that sending patients directly to Modesto will save at least two hours in their care time, and those hours can mean the difference between life and death.

“We want to save time, because time is muscle, and the more time that elapses, the more heart that is damaged,” Baucom said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at 209 385-2486 or