Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital recently became the first Westside hospital to be designated as a special receiving center for heart-attack patients, according to Los Angeles County officials.

The designation was awarded by the Department of Health Services and Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency after the hospital met established criteria for best practices in heart attack care.

Under this designation, paramedics will preferentially bring heart attack patients to the hospital’s Nethercutt Emergency Center, which has demonstrated the ability to rapidly mobilize resources, including its cardiac catheterization team, to provide interventional heart care on a 24-hour basis.

By having designated receiving centers, the county hopes to improve patient outcomes by ensuring that people having heart attacks are taken to facilities that can quickly activate their “cath labs” to provide potentially lifesaving care within 90 minutes, officials said. A “cath lab” is an examination room in a hospital or clinic with diagnostic imaging equipment to support a catheterization procedure.

“The goal is to get the patient’s blocked vessel open within 90 minutes of the first electrocardiogram (EKG) indicating a heart attack,” says Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at the medical center.

“Paramedics will perform the EKG in the field and transmit the results to our center, where our emergency physicians then can activate our cath lab before the patient arrives at our hospital,” he said.

Dr. Ravi Dave, a staff cardiologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, says that having designated receiving centers will help save lives.

“The medical literature is very conclusive that the sooner patients are taken to cath labs, the better the results,” he says. “Time is muscle when someone is having a heart attack.”

Nethercutt Emergency Center is at 1250 16th St., Santa Monica. In June, the hospital plans to open a new Nethercutt Emergency Center as part of its rebuilding project.

The 16,000-square-foot facility will be on the ground floor of the new Southwest Wing that is taking shape on 15th Street, just north of Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica.

The center will feature several innovations to enable the hospital to better serve the almost 30,000 patients a year who seek emergency care, according to hospital officials.

Among those innovations is an on-site computerized tomography (CT) scanner that will minimize patient transport and help ensure more accurate diagnosis and timely treatment of patients with vascular symptoms, chest pain and breathing difficulties.