There are few things in life more alarming that the sudden onset of chest pain.

From the moment a person begins to feel that pain, nothing is more important than treating it.

When it comes to one's heart health, minutes truly matter.

"Time is heart muscle," said Mary Kay Horvath, R.N., St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, Coaldale. "Earlier diagnosis and treatment have better outcomes."

St. Luke's Miners can provide those services when the patient needs it most. Its medical procedures have earned the hospital Chest Pain Center accreditation from the Society of Chest Pain Centers.

The SCPC is an international organization dedicated to eliminating heart disease as the number one cause of death worldwide by improving care for patients with acute coronary syndromes and other related conditions.

"We are the first accredited hospital in these region," said said Kim Sargent, R.N., Interim Manager of the Emergency Department at St. Luke's Miners. "St. Luke's is the only one in the area that has all four of its campuses accredited."

As an Accredited Chest Pain Center, St. Luke's Miners has met the standards set forth by the SCPC that it will provide the best heart care practices to ensure that its patients receive the right care at the right time to minimize or eliminate heart damage due to a heart attack.

Hospitals that have received SCPC accreditation have achieved a higher level of expertise in dealing with patients who arrive with symptoms of a heart attack.

They emphasize the importance of standardized diagnostic and treatment programs that provide more efficient and effective evaluation as well as more appropriate and rapid treatment of patients with chest pain and other heart attack symptoms.

To become an Accredited Chest Pain Center, St. Luke's Miners engaged in rigorous evaluation by SCPC for its ability to assess, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack.

This means that processes in place meet strict criteria aimed at reducing the time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment.

Patients are treated more quickly during the critical window of time when the integrity of the heart muscle can be preserved, and monitored when it is not certain that they are having a heart attack, to ensure that they are not sent home too quickly or needlessly admitted to the hospital.

"People tend to wait when they think they might be having a heart attack, and that's a mistake," said Dr. Eric Bodish, director of St. Luke's Miners emergency department. "The average patient arrives in the emergency department more than two hours after the onset of symptoms.

"What they don't realize is that the sooner a heart attack is treated, the less damage to the heart and the better the outcome for the patient."

It is a process that actually begins with transporting the patient to the facility.

"We work in conjunction with EMS to help us diagnose chest pain earlier," said Sargent. "We depend on our EMS to help with all of that.

"EMS is our eyes from the start," said Horvath. "We want to get the patient from the door to the cath lab in less than an hour; then the chance of getting that blocked artery open is that much greater."

Sargent said the accreditation validates the hospital as providing leading edge care to its heart patients through its timely evaluation and treatment.

"We continue to add services to help our community," said Andrea Visnosky, St. Luke's Miners director of marketing and public relations. "It's reassuring to know people can get the best care here, and that this is the best local choice if they are experiencing chest pain. We also have the support of the St. Luke's entire network, which is also accredited.