Wright Center at Forefront of local Alzheimer’s/Dementia Care

By now, we are all too familiar with the utter tragedy that surrounds Alzheimer’s disease, given the lack of a cure and the staggering toll it takes on patients and their families. 

Nevertheless, we in the medical community continue to work hard to improve the treatment for those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, while admirable international campaigns like World Alzheimer’s Month shed valuable light on the subject. 

Launched in 2012 and held every September, World Alzheimer’s Month focuses on raising awareness and challenging the stigma surrounding dementia. This year’s campaign is focused on getting people to recognize the warning signs of dementia and the importance of early diagnosis. 

In the United States, more than 6 million people ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s. One in three senior citizens dies of Alzheimer’s or another dementia – more than breast and prostate cancer combined. Meanwhile, more than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients. 

As grim as all of that sounds, I’m happy to report that strides are being made in the realm of Alzheimer’s/dementia research and treatment. At The Wright Center, we’re proud to offer clinical Alzheimer’s and dementia testing, evaluation and individualized care plans. And rest assured, you don’t have to be a Wright Center patient to benefit from this clinic’s services — our diagnostics and recommendations can be shared with your primary care physician, wherever they are. 

Based on the award-winning model established at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), The Wright Center’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program is designed to help patients and families with the complex medical, behavioral and social needs of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. At the heart of the program is a dedicated, first-class team of geriatricians, advanced practitioners and dementia care specialists who follow a co-management model that works closely with patients’ primary care and/or referring physicians to ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for both the patient and their family members/caregiver.

The program has several specific core components, among them: 

  • An in-person visit (approximately 90 minutes long) with a dementia care specialist;
  • A personalized care plan developed with the primary/referring physician;
  • Follow-up phone calls and/or in-person visits to ensure the plan is implemented or modified as needed;
  • 24/7, 365-day-a-year access to caregivers for assistance and advice in order to avoid emergency department visits and hospitalizations;
  • Ongoing patient monitoring with at least one annual in-person visit to ensure that ongoing and emerging needs are being met.

We’re hopeful that as awareness increases and more families seek testing and treatment early, we may see some real breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s and dementia within the next few years. For now, though, it’s incumbent upon us as medical providers to make sure patients are getting exemplary care, and that caregivers are receiving the tools and support they’ll need to get through this difficult experience. It’s a big commitment, but one we’re privileged to make. For more information on World Alzheimer’s Month, visit worldalzmonth.org.

Summer Safety for Kids

This edition of The Wright Medicine features guest columnist Alexies Samonte, M.D., Medical Director of Pediatric Services at The Wright Center for Community Health, who shares important summer safety reminders for kids and parents.

Summer is finally here, and so are the freedoms of warm-weather, outdoor activities! As we head into the Fourth of July weekend and celebrate fewer restrictions now that communities are closer to reaching herd immunity from COVID-19 – especially with kids as young as 12 eligible for COVID vaccines – I’d like to offer some general safety tips to families. 

Whether your kids are enjoying summer at home, on the road or at camp, address these topics with your family to keep them healthy and happy.

Keep a close eye on water activities

Water safety should be a top priority for parents, whether you have a pool in your backyard or visit a water park, community splash pad or resort. Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death for children ages 1 to 4 in the United States, and it only takes seconds to happen. Actively supervise children at all times in or around water, and make sure you have the right equipment to keep pools safe. Consider swim lessons to strengthen your child’s abilities.

Look for signs of overheating

Heat stroke can be life-threatening for children, with cases spiking in July and August. Prior to heat stroke, kids often show milder symptoms such as heat exhaustion. What does it look like? Signs can include cool, clammy skin (despite the heat); goosebumps; headaches and irritability; dizziness, fainting or nausea/vomiting; and increased sweating and thirst. Make sure children take water breaks and wear lightweight clothing when playing outside. Heat stroke is also extremely dangerous to kids who are left in or gain access to cars: it’s the leading cause of deaths in vehicles (excluding crashes) for children 14 and younger. Car temperatures can reach dangerous levels within an hour even on mild days, and since children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults, it’s critical to stay vigilant about keeping car doors locked, keys out of reach and establishing a double-check system when you arrive at a destination to avoid forgetting kids in the backseat. 

Always use sun protection

Whenever your child goes outdoors, make sure to apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Reapply every two hours or immediately after your child has been sweating or playing in (or been splashed by) water. Try to avoid outdoor activities during peak sunshine hours, or seek shade regularly and be sure to stay hydrated. 

Watch out for bug bites

Parents can do their best to help kids avoid bites and stings from Pennsylvania pests like mosquitoes, spiders, ticks, flies and wasps by applying insect repellent before going outdoors, covering arms and legs as much as possible, and avoiding heavily scented soaps or lotions. If your child has been bitten, wash the area thoroughly and elevate it; use ice for pain and swelling; and use antihistamine medications as directed. Seek immediate care if symptoms such as chest tightening, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, fatigue/drowsiness or swelling in other areas of the body develop. 

Enjoy fireworks safely

Some fireworks safety tips are more obvious, like not letting very young children handle them, never lighting them indoors, and never pointing fireworks at another person. But even sparklers are a lot more dangerous than most people think – in fact, they burn at about 2,000 degrees, which is hot enough to melt metals. According to the National Fire Protection Association, sparklers alone account for more than 25% of emergency room visits for fireworks injuries. If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July with a bang, keep your kids safe. 

Use personal protective gear

Whether it’s ensuring your child is outfitted in a snug yet comfortable flotation device or life jacket in the water (and on boats), wearing their helmet while riding their bike, or strapping on knee and elbow pads during athletics, parents can avoid all kinds of trips to the emergency room by requiring safety equipment during playtime. 

Avoid playground injuries

According to the CDC, more than 200,000 children go to the ER every year for playground-related accidents. The worst culprit? Monkey bars, which cause half of all serious playground falls. Supervise your child closely while they play and assist them if they are still learning. Touch equipment to check for hot surfaces before playing on it. Keep a close eye on children at playgrounds, and choose the right play equipment for your child’s age and skills. 

We’re all eager to get back to “normal” life and enjoy some well-earned time off, but it’s important to keep your health a priority, even when you vacation or relax by the pool. Stay safe and healthy this holiday weekend and throughout the warm months ahead. Happy Fourth of July!

For more information or to schedule appointments for any children’s primary care services, visit TheWrightCenter.org or call 570-230-0019. 

HRSA Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program at Epicenter of HIV Treatment Locally

It’s certainly not an exaggeration to say we have made notable strides in the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS over the past four-plus decades in our global, national, regional and local communities. What was once a near-certain cause of premature death during my time in medical school has become a very manageable chronic infection thanks to significant resource investments, scientific advancements in medication protocols, team based care delivery systems, and the advocacy of passionate stakeholders, including patients, families, and dedicated providers and public health champions. Thankfully, many patients with HIV/AIDS now achieve undetectable viral rates, effectively reducing AIDS related illnesses and rendering the virus less transmittable.

Of course, there is still much advocacy to be done to ensure patients with HIV/AIDS are aware of their status and able to access the resources and primary, specialty, and social health services they need to lead long, healthy, happy, and productive lives. Awareness campaigns like National HIV Testing Day remain so very important in our ongoing fight against this horrible disease that has claimed more than 30 million lives globally since the 1980s.

First established in 1995, this year’s National HIV Testing Day will be observed on June 27, with its usual focus on encouraging people to get tested and, if positive, to seek the treatment and support required for them to combat and control the disease.

I’m proud to say that The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education have long been at the vanguard of HIV/AIDS treatment regionally via our Health Resources and Services Administration funded Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which for more than 20 years has provided continuous and coordinated HIV/AIDS and infectious disease treatment to patients from within a seven-county service area in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Currently operating out of The Wright Center for Community Health’s clinical hub in South Scranton, our Ryan White HIV/AIDS clinic is led by a first-rate staff of compassionate infectious disease experts, among them Mary Louise Decker, MD, Sister Ruth Neely, CRNP, Karen McKenna, RN, and Shane Cobert, Director of HIV and Preventive Services. These fine, highly qualified people have gratefully been well prepared by the reputable, founding and courageous clinicians Drs. Stephen Pancoast and Shubhra Shetty before they transitioned out of the clinic. 

Because of our Ryan White team’s engagement and resiliency, as well as revolutionary advances in antiretroviral (ATV) therapy, the majority of our Ryan White Clinic patients have notably achieved undetectable viral rates. In addition to providing patients with their critical daily medication regimens, our staff offers a holistic, empowering approach in which medical, behavioral, and social support groups and numerous social engagement activities are also integral to the care experience. 

Understanding the mental and emotional toll of HIV/AIDS, the clinic’s deeply empathetic case management team works tirelessly to ensure patients’ quality-of-life needs are being met. Our case management staff assist patients facing hardships with housing, food, insurance, transportation to appointments, utility assistance, hearing aids, vision care, dental care, and mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. Our prison linkage program, meanwhile, provides the same extensive health and social services to incarcerated patients with HIV/AIDS and those recently released from prison.

It is really important to note that our services don’t stop at HIV/AIDS treatment. Our clinicians provide confidential sexual health screenings, risk assessments and prevention counseling for those at a high risk of contracting HIV and also HIV testing. Patients at high risk also receive free condoms and have access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that has shown to reduce the risk of becoming infected with the virus.

Our trained staff also offer confidential sexually transmitted disease and also Hepatitis C testing and treatment.

Our Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is continually welcoming new patients. We accept all insurance plans, and work with patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Collectively, we have made great strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but it’s imperative that we continue to do our part to spread awareness on the importance of reducing transmission risk, getting tested and pursuing treatment. No question, infection with HIV remains a life-changer, but it’s certainly not a life-ender — not by any means. Young people today have never known a world without HIV/AIDS. Hopefully, an effective, game-changing vaccine will change that for future generations.

Linda Thomas-Hemak, M.D., a primary care physician triple board-certified in pediatrics, internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as CEO and serves as President of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. She lives with her family and practices primary care in Jermyn. Send your medical questions to news@thewrightcenter.org.

Make Mental Health a Priority During May

Our biweekly column, The Wright Medicine, appears in The Valley Advantage on the first and third Fridays of each month.

Spring is a time of renewal, and I think that idea perfectly encapsulates that sense of optimism – cautious as it may be — we all feel now as the COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly available to a larger percentage of the general public. 

While we continue to take all of the appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, I do think it’s perfectly healthy to think about all of the things that will gradually reenter our lives as we gain better control over the virus, among them weddings, birthday parties, air travel, movie theaters, museums, concerts, professional sporting events, full schools, and hugging our loved ones. We humans are hardwired to be social, and these seemingly simple pleasures have taken on a new level of appreciation because of the pandemic.

Of course, we also must reckon with the fact that the past year-plus has been a period of extraordinary grief, stress and uncertainty – and there are still challenges ahead. And so, with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, now seems an especially appropriate time to encourage you to not be afraid to seek out the many resources that are available to those who may need help. Once again, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is stressing its “You Are Not Alone” message as part of its awareness campaign. 

As we know, mental illness is a full-scale epidemic of its own – 1 in 5 American adults experience it in some form, while 1 in 20 are seriously afflicted, according to NAMI. Meanwhile, 17 percent of youths ages 6-17 have mental health disorders. Types of mental illness range from anxiety and depression to obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Looking at these jarring statistics, it’s clear we need to do a better job both within the medical community and in society in general to further destigmatize mental health so that people aren’t so reluctant to seek out the help that they need. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of great mental health resources available right here in Northeast Pennsylvania. At The Wright Center, we offer a wide range of behavioral health services – therapy, psychological assessments, psychiatric care, etc. — for children, adolescents and adults facing a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, substance-related and addictive disorders, bullying, relationship stressors, LGBTQI+ issues, trauma, and loss and grief. 

And, in response to the current shortage of psychiatrists locally and nationally, The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education now has its own ACGME-accredited psychiatry residency. In June, we’ll celebrate our first class of graduates, who have spent the past four years training in regional public health-based settings, working closely with primary care and addiction medicine teams. We’re very proud of our residents and the critical function the residency is serving. 

No question, the pandemic has provided us with a great test of our resilience, which I believe the vast majority of us have passed resoundingly. And, with any luck, it’s made us more compassionate and empathetic – after all, who among us hasn’t stopped to think about the lonely isolation countless COVID patients endured during their final hours, and the agonizing grief felt by the loved ones who couldn’t be there to comfort them? These are scars that won’t heal easily, but with a good mental health apparatus available to us, we have the resources to work through our collective grief. 

As the saying goes, you truly are not alone. 

Jignesh Y. Sheth, M.D., a primary care physician dually board-certified in internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as Chief Medical Officer and serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations for The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. He sees patients at the Wright Center’s Jermyn practice and lives with his family in Clarks Summit. Send your medical questions to news@thewrightcenter.org.