Inova Health System has opened the Washington area's only medical facility dedicated exclusively to the causes and treatment of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

The Heart and Vascular Institute at Inova Fairfax Hospital offers cutting-edge cardiac and vascular research opportunities for its physicians and contemporary practices in preventive medicine, disease management and rehabilitation, according to hospital officials.

"This is the first facility in the region totally dedicated to taking care of patients with cardiovascular disease," said Candice Saunders, chief operating officer of the four-story, $152.2 million institute.

"It allows us to bring everything we need for the care of the patient into one building so we can focus not only on their clinical needs but also on their psychological needs, their social needs, the whole expectation," she said.

Cardiovascular disease includes arteriosclerosis, angina, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, stroke and arrhythmia.

"I think our sphere of influence will be probably between 100 and 180 miles," said Harvey S. Sherber, a cardiologist at the institute.

The closest comparable cardiovascular care centers are at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and centers in Richmond and Charlottesville, Sherber said.

"It's the facility that we have dreamt about," Sherber continued at a recent preview of the building. "I think there is probably no place that has the state-of-the-art equipment that we have right now."

He said "the integration of surgery, administration, nursing, facilities management" offered at the center are unique.

"I think it's going to be an experience for patients that they could not have elsewhere. It's all patient-directed. The environment is completely different," Sherber said.

Glass and wood feature prominently at the institute, on the hospital grounds off Gallows Road near Route 50.

A central outdoor garden area provides patients with fresh air and green space.

A stone-lined water fountain greets visitors as they come though the institute's main doors, and the interior-design emphasis at the institute is generally on rounded edges rather than sharp corners.

"We've incorporated the healing environment in the actual physical plan," Saunders said, "We know that having water, natural lighting, wood . . . are more conducive to getting better faster."

The institute has 156 patient rooms, nearly all of them private; 48 intensive care beds; and an 11-room suite dedicated to cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology procedures.

Design elements take into consideration patients of all ages, and there are dedicated areas for children.

Cardiac surgeon Edward A. Lefrak said: "The main thing is that we have a focus just on cardiac and vascular needs. It's very convenient for the patient, instead of them going all over the hospital.

"There is another key point though," he said. "We've named this place the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute. It's not just a bigger Fairfax hospital because we're really going to focus on research, wellness and prevention of disease, things that are a little different than routine taking care of people. We're going to try to prevent disease and also have a new focus on research."

Nurses Patricia Gilliam, left, and Hilary Woodier set up a new room of the Coronary Intensive Unit at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute.