Thursday, April 24, 2014

STAR Program Emphasizes Care in Cancer Treatment

     Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is frightening. Cancer treatment can be a daunting undertaking that leaves patients feeling isolated, desperate, and with little hope.

     In July 2014, Meritus Health plans to implement a program that will allow patients to take comfort in knowing that when they receive treatment for cancer at Meritus Medical Center, they are not alone. 

     The program, which is called STAR, stands for Survivor Training and Rehabilitation. According to the organization’s website, STAR is a nationally recognized cancer survivorship program that has the goal of minimizing the side-effects of cancer treatment, and providing the patient with the best quality of life that is possible.

     The national STAR program began when a patient diagnosed with cancer, who also was a doctor, felt that more resources were needed for patients throughout the treatment process. The program started development, implementation, and gradually grew throughout the country.

     Health care providers at Meritus Health discussed the value of having this type of program at Meritus Medical Center, and they received the green light to develop STAR here.

     Jeanni Moyer, STAR program coordinator, said that STAR will allow patients to receive more individualized treatment, additional services, and is open to patients who have been diagnosed with any form of cancer.

     “Our goal is to provide comprehensive, evidenced-base rehabilitation care for our cancer survivors,” she said. “The addition of rehabilitation services (physical, occupational, and speech therapy), will be an excellent adjunct to the medical interventions that are already being provided at The John R. Marsh Cancer Center,” she said.

     Currently, there are 25 Meritus Health employees, from different areas within the organization, who are going through the certification process. These include: Total Rehab Care, The Center for Breast Health, Meritus Cancer Specialties, and The John R. Marsh Cancer Center. The program involves training, an examination at the end that trainees must pass, and ongoing education to be sure that certified providers stay up-to-date on the newest policies and procedures.

     Moyer said that during cancer treatment, patients can experience side-effects such as fatigue, weakness, balance and gait problems, difficulty with speech, and swallowing issues. The providers who receive this additional training can help patients improve their quality of life.

     Susan Lopp, Director of the John R. Marsh Cancer Center, who is also a coordinator of the STAR program, says that Meritus Health plans to have the first 25 staff members going through the program certified in June, and hopefully, the program will be implemented in July. She said that the program will be patient focused and collaborative between departments.

     “We have a steering committee and I, along with Jeanni Moyer, the STAR coordinator for Rehab Services, assure support to the staff completing the certification,” Lopp said.

     Moyer and Lopp will also work collectively to develop and coordinate the implementation process with physicians, and to maintain internal communication between departments.

     Both Moyer and Lopp emphasize that the STAR program is about helping patients feel self-empowered, and giving them the support and guidance that they need to move beyond their cancer diagnosis.

     For more information on the STAR program, please visit the Oncology Rehab Partners Website, and click on the “For Survivors” Tab.

By: Mark Russ

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Organ Donation: Turning a Tragedy into Triumph

     Dealing with end-of- life circumstances can be difficult and painful for all parties involved. The unfortunate and sometimes untimely loss of a loved one is devastating to families. It is, however, important to discuss how the family, and the recently departed, can be sure that a part of them lives on after their passing, and give the gift of life to another human being.
     April is National Donate Life Month. This month-long campaign Instituted in 2003 by Donate Life America, a nonprofit group of local and national organizations that has the goal of educating the public about organ, eye, and tissue donation, and to advise them about the process to register as an organ donor.

     Meritus Medical Center works directly with The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, a nonprofit organization that helps to facilitate the donation process of organs in several counties in Maryland, including Washington County.

An Organ Recipients’ Story
     Mike Butler, of Hagerstown, Md., was a kidney and pancreas recipient in March of 1995. He said that life prior to receiving his transplant was not easy.

     “Dialysis was not good to me,” he said. “I cramped up from head to toe in the first 10 minutes of a three and a half hour treatment.
     Butler also said that he was on Insulin and took more than 25 pills a day. Now, he takes six pills a day.

     He said that receiving the organs from his donor, Kelly, has changed his life, and improved his health.
     “I feel great! I am a firm believer that faith, diet, exercise, listening to your body, and health care team has got me through so much,” he said.

     Butler went on to say that he carries Kelly’s spirit in everything that he does, and that if he were to die tomorrow, he would have no regrets, just a smile on his face and a grateful heart.
     For people who are hesitant about becoming organ donors, Butler says that a donation could have a significant impact on numerous lives.
     “Even if you couldn’t be an organ donor, you could be a prime candidate to be a tissue donor,” he said. “You can’t take your organs to heaven, leave them for someone who needs them.”
     He also has advice for people who are waiting for an organ donation.

     “Do all that you can to keep yourself as strong and as healthy as you can to make it to the transplant,” he said. “Take your meds, eat right and listen to your doctor. Most of all, Stay positive.”
Dispelling Organ Donation Myths
     If I agree to donate my organs, emergency medical services and hospital personnel won’t work to save my life? This is not true. Emergency services and hospital personnel make every effort possible to give you, the patient, the highest level of care possible. They will exhaust all resources available to save your life.

     People Under the age of 18 can’t make the decision to donate organs. It is true that legally, a minor under the age of 18 cannot make this decision on their own, but a parent or guardian can make the decision on behalf of the donor. The reality is that children and teenagers are also on the waiting list for organ donation. They may be able to benefit from organs that come from younger people.
     I am not in the best of health, and my organs are not viable. This is not the case for every person. Certain organs may be able to be transplanted while other organs, skin, or tissue cannot be transplanted. Medical professionals can determine what is and is not viable at the time of death.

     People who Donate Organs cannot have an open-casket funeral. Organ donation does not interfere with having an open-casket funeral. The donor is clothed during the funeral, and funeral homes make every effort possible to be sure that the donor looks as presentable as possible.
     I can’t donate organs because I am too old. Again, this is not true. Being an older citizen does not automatically exclude you from having viable organs that can be transplanted into another individual. Medical personnel, at the time of death, can make the decision on which organs can be used and which organs cannot.

How to Register for Organ Donation
     As of April 01, 2014, more than 2.5 million people in Maryland registered for organ donation. Registration is not complicated. Donate for Life recommends that organ donors do the following to make their organ donation wishes known:

  1. Register online at
    • Click on the Register Online button and follow the steps
    • You can also check or change your status.
  2. Register through the MVA (Motor Vehicle Administration). This can be completed in person or online.
  3. Lastly, make your wishes known to friends, family members, and your next of kin. Having this documented in writing, in the form of a living will, can help your family when they are making end-of-life decisions.
There is no question that losing a loved-one is a crushing blow to the family and friends that are left behind. Furthermore, it is a part of the human experience that everyone must deal with at some point, but by becoming an organ, eye, or tissue donor, the dearly departed can live on by giving the gift of life to others, and turning a tragic situation for one person into a triumphant victory for another..

By Mark H. Russ



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Child Abuse: Education, Prevention, and Assistance

     April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Declared a month to educate the public about child abuse and prevention by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, worked at the federal level, to inform the American public through radio, print, television PSAs, bumper stickers and posters, about a very serious and troubling issue.

     Over the years, this program has grown to include various sponsored activities on a state, county and individual organization level throughout the United States.   

     In the 2014 proclamation for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, President Obama said, “We all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect and in helping young victims recover. From parents and guardians to educators and community leaders, each of us can help carve out safe places for young people to build their confidence and pursue their dreams.”

     On April 8, 2014, nurses, doctors, and volunteers planted more than 1500 pinwheels on the grounds of Meritus Medical Center. These pinwheels represent reported cases of children who were abused and neglected in Washington County, Maryland.

     Andrea Blythe, RN, a forensic nurse in the emergency department at Meritus Health, and coordinator of the Interpersonal Abuse and Violence Program, stresses the importance of bringing attention to child abuse.

     "Each pinwheel we plant is one case of child abuse in our county, that’s 1520 times that a child was neglected or abused that we know about,” Blythe said. “The more we talk about it, the more we shed a light on the issue, the more people will feel empowered and expected to intervene,” she said.

Children and Abuse
     According to the Centers for Disease Control, child maltreatment is defined as, “all types of abuse and neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver or another person in a custodial role.” A child can be abused physically, sexually, emotionally or by being neglected. While all children are at risk for abuse, children under the age of four and children with special needs are often at the highest risk for abuse.

     As a forensic nurse, Blythe, and other nurses and doctors on her team, perform exams on adults and pediatric victims of abuse that come to the emergency department at Meritus Health. In addition to examinations, Meritus Health also provides counseling support through referrals to the emergency social work team at the emergency department.

     Blythe stresses that the support that Meritus Health offers victims and families goes beyond the emergency department, and includes community referrals for any medical follow-up treatment that may be needed.

     “We work to ensure that all of the patient’s questions and needs are addressed prior to discharge, and that they have a safe place to go.” Blythe said. This is accomplished by working with community programs such as CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused).

Perpetrators and Abuse
     There are several factors that contribute to child abuse.  The CDC says that these can include a history of abuse in the family, a constant rotation of caregivers in and out of the home, substance and/ or mental health issues experienced by a care giver or parent, parenting stress and limited financial resources.

     According to a 2013 report from the CDC that provided child abuse statistics from 2011, 80 percent of children are abused by their parents and only 2.9 percent of abusers were people that the children did not know.

Child Abuse Statistics
     Below, are some statistics provided by the CDC that help to outline the impact that Child abuse has on society across the spectrum.

  •  In 2011, child protective services (CPS), received approximately 3.7 million referrals for child abuse and neglect.
  • The lifetime economic cost of handling child abuse and neglect cases in the United States totals approximately $124 billion.
  • In 2011, approximately 1,750 children died as a result of child abuse.
  • Non- CPS studies indicate that approximately 1 in 7 children in the U.S. experience some form of child abuse in their lifetime.

Community Resources and Help
     While child abuse is a challenging topic to tackle, it must be handled directly, and with care to ensure the protection of children. Blythe echoes that sentiment, “We have to move away from a culture of silence towards a culture of protection,” she said.

     Below, are some resources that victims of abuse and families can utilize for assistance in the community.

Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused-(CASA)
Provides shelter for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.  (301)-739-8975

Washington County Department of Social Services
Provides both child and adult protective services. Can assist with providing referrals to other community agencies, and financial assistance to those who qualify for services. Also handles investigations of suspected abuse (240)-313-2100 /24-hour hotline (240)-420-2222

Safe Place- Washington County Child Advocacy Center
Provides victims of sexual abuse and care takers with counseling services, interviews and medical treatment. (240)-420-4308

By Mark H. Russ