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Format: 04/24/2014
Format: 04/24/2014


Allegheny General Hospital Launches Effort to Improve Management of Heart Failure in Rural PA Communities

Monday, November 25th, 2013

PA Department of Welfare Helps Fund AGH Patient Clinic in Punxsutawney Designed to Enhance Heart Failure Care, Reduce Hospitalizations
Pittsburgh/Punxsutawney, PA (Nov. 25, 2013) -- Heart failure patients in rural Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania can now more conveniently access some of the nation’s leading cardiovascular disease specialists from Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) right in their hometown thanks to a new clinic that aims to reduce hospital admissions for this increasingly prevalent disease.
With the help of a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, AGH’s Cardiovascular Institute has opened a heart failure clinic at Punxsutawney Hospital.  A physician, nurse practitioner and pharmacist at the clinic will help local heart failure patients manage their illness and ideally prevent unnecessary hospitalizations.
“Comprehensive disease management is the best way to keep heart failure patients out of the hospital, but such programs are offered mostly in urban tertiary care hospitals,” said George Sokos, DO, a heart failure cardiologist at AGH and Project Director of the new AGH  Punxsutawney heart failure clinic. “These services have shown to improve patient quality of life and long-term outcomes , and both providers and payors are increasingly recognizing the need for them in rural settings, where rising incidence and hospitalization rates for heart failure have become  a serious concern. ”
Heart disease is the leading cause of hospital admissions in the United States, and the numbers are expected to increase as the population ages. Ten percent of Americans age 65 and older suffer from heart failure. As of 2009, the direct and indirect cost of treating heart failure stood at $37 billion, according to the National Institutes of Health, and that number is expected to triple by 2030.
According to Srinivas Murali, MD, Director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at AGH and Medical Director of the hospital’s Cardiovascular Institute, reducing heart failure related hospitalizations and emergency room visits in both rural and urban settings can significantly enhance the experience of patients battling the disease while lessening the economic burden it places on the healthcare system.    
“It is without question that many heart failure patients can live their lives without repeated hospitalizations if their care is closely managed and based on existing best practices.  With the disease management program implemented in this new clinic, we expect to greatly improve the quality of heart failure care in the Punxsutawney area and ultimately throughout all of rural Pennsylvania as our model becomes a standard across the commonwealth.” 
In addition to routine medical visits, the staff at the Punxsutawney heart failure clinic will help patients recently discharged from the hospital with medication adjustments and monitor their vital signs and adjustment to daily living post-hospital.
Many patients from the Punxsutawney area come to AGH for heart failure treatment, Dr. Sokos said, but it is a four-hour drive roundtrip with no public transit options available. 
“Regular office visits, though time-consuming, are crucial to keeping heart failure in check,” he said.
The clinic expects to treat 200 patients in its first year of operation. The goal is eventually to expand the service to other rural hospitals and to add telemedicine consults.
“The heart failure clinic has been well-received in Punxsutawney, and patients tell us they appreciate not having to drive to Pittsburgh for treatment,” said Zuhdi Dajani, MD, cardiologist and director of the Punxsutawney clinic. “Our outstanding staff offers care that is patient-centered and individualized, as well as cost-effective.”
Besides Dr. Dajani, clinic staff also includes Norman Fry, BSN, RN, Nurse Coordinator; Mike Kacsmar and Darlene Brink, Nurse Practitioners; Emily Conrad, Tom Moore and Maggie Edmonds, Pharmacists; Janet Huot, Dietitian; and Rachelle Bray, Director of Cardiopulmonary Services. 
The heart failure program at AGH is one of the region’s and nation’s most advanced clinical services,  employing specialized cardiologists,  cardiovascular and thoracic surgeons, physician extenders, nurses, dietitians, physical therapists, pharmacists and social workers who provide integrated, patient-focused health care for inpatients and outpatients. This approach has resulted in superior outcomes, with AGH ranked in the top 10 percent nationally in Centers for Medicare Services (CMS) mandated heart failure core measures and in-hospital mortality. AGH was also named one of the nation’s Top 50 Centers for Cardiovascular Care by leading healthcare industry analyst Thomson Reuters.
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