Services & Specialties November 28, 2012

Support Group Guiding Patients to Better Health

Chronic diseases are those the patient will likely live with for the rest of his or her life. Conditions like congestive heart failure can be difficult for patients, especially when it comes to adapting their lifestyle and living successfully. Four years ago, Adena nurse navigators created the heart failure support group to help patients manage their chronic condition at home.

The group meets every other month (with a break in the winter) as a way for CHF patients to learn more about managing their illness, and find ways to help keep symptoms at bay. “Our goal is to create a community of support for anyone living with heart failure, and those who care for them,” said Lori O’Hearn, RN BSN. “We want to provide ongoing support to our patients as they make the necessary lifestyle changes that will help them maintain health and avoid exacerbation and hospitalization.”

Hospital readmissions for chronic disease are high on the radar for Adena and every healthcare organization. In the near future, hospitals and physicians will be fined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for readmissions of patients with chronic diseases such as CHF. Through education and guidance from groups like the CHF Support Group, it is hoped that our patients will become ill less often.

For example, sodium is detrimental to the health of a CHF patient, but it’s often difficult for patients to know what they need to do in order to limit their sodium intake. Recognizing this, the nurse navigators who plan and execute the meetings offer participants information and ideas for food alternatives that are lower in sodium, and less likely to exacerbate CHF symptoms.

Blane Richardson, 77, of Frankfort has been coming to the CHF Support Group meetings since 2010. He suffered a major heart attack in 2008, and continued heart trouble led to having a defibrillator implanted in 2009. Blane was in an out of the hospital at that time because of his CHF. In October 2010, Dr. Allen Shaw connected Blane with Nurse Navigator Susan DePugh, RN BSN, who told him about the CHF Support Group.

Blane began attending regularly and has not been readmitted to the hospital in over two years. “It has been great,” he said. “This was kind of a triangular set up between me, Dr. Shaw and Susan, and the support group. We work together so well.” He credits the education he’s receiving at the support group as helping him to limit the amount of sodium in his diet, which has helped him lose more than 50 pounds and cut the dosage of his diuretic medication in half.

At the September meeting, Chester Hatfield, 72 of Morgantown (Pike County) attended his first session at the urging of Lori O’Hearn, his nurse navigator. Chester was having difficulty catching his breath when doing simple chores. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack or stroke,” he said.

Knowing something wasn’t right, he went to the doctor and found that his heart was weak and only pumping at 25 percent capacity. He learned he was suffering from CHF and also diabetes. Chester knew he didn’t want to take medication for his diabetes and asked his doctor to give him three months to take off some weight. In those three months, he lost 42 pounds and did not need diabetes medication.

However, Chester still had CHF and needed a pacemaker and defibrillator to increase his heart rate and blood flow. Now a year later, he no longer experiences shortness of breath and he continues to learn about his condition and how to live with it. He attended the support group as a way to connect with others in a similar situation and “to hear what others like me have to say.”

About 15 to 25 people attend the group sessions every other month. Friendships have developed between the members and staff, and there is a strong sense of camaraderie among all of the participants who are learning together and living decidedly healthier lives.

“It’s so far beyond some paper a doctor would hand you,” Blane adds. “Information leads to knowledge and knowledge leads to wisdom. I’m so pleased with how things have worked out. This group has really been a major factor in my life.”

Anyone living with congestive heart failure, or is caring for someone with CHF may join the CHF Support Group. Meetings are held in Adena’s PACCAR Medical Education Center, with the next session scheduled for Thursday, November 8 from 5-6 p.m.