Year of the Cat

Occasionally on the news you hear journalists call vaccine research a “cat-and-mouse” game. That’s only partially true. It misses the point that, if the cat doesn’t get its claws into the mouse, sometimes the mouse turns around and kills the cat. This game has been going on for most of recorded history and, as we have become better-educated about the nature of viruses and vaccines over the last 18 months, it’s safe to say that we have gained a greater respect for both the cat and the mouse.

Thankfully, in 2021, the cat seems to have gained the upper hand. Because, for most of human history, let’s face it: The mouse was winning. Until relatively recently, in fact, unchecked viruses, diseases, infections and a fundamental misunderstanding of how the body works doomed most people to an early grave.

Which explains why the idea that human beings might somehow create resistance or immunity to serious illness stretches back centuries—and how we arrived at the current state of vaccine technology. Long before scientists understood how epidemics spread, or even what they were, many cultures in Europe, Asia and Africa subscribed to the belief that exposure to a small amount of virus could boost immune response and prevent large-scale deaths. As the vaccines developed in late 2020 and early 2021 helped us turn the corner on COVID-19, it is worth a look back at how we got to where we are today.

The Scourge of Smallpox

The initial breakthrough dates back more than 1,000 years to China, where we find the first mention of variolation experiments. Variolation takes its name from the scientific name for smallpox, variola. Smallpox killed an estimated one-third of the individuals who contracted the disease, and left its survivors hideously scarred and often sterile or blind. A ship entering an ancient harbor with reports of smallpox aboard was often quarantined until the disease had run its course. The root of the word quarantine, with which we are now all too familiar, is quarantena. It originated with the policy in Venice during the bubonic plague of the 1300s and 1400s, when all ships arriving at the Italian port were compelled to anchor for 40 days before sailors could come ashore. For the record, the “quarantine” imposed on travelers during the coronavirus pandemic isn’t a quarantine at all; technically it is medical isolation.

Variolation involved various methods of introducing a small amount of biological material taken from an infected patient into an uninfected person. Among the ways this was accomplished was with a needle piercing a smallpox pustule and then being scraped across the skin of a healthy individual. Another was the collection of scabs from a smallpox victim, which were then ground up and rubbed into an incision in the skin—or blown up the healthy person’s nose. Sometimes a needle and thread that had been pulled through a smallpox pustule were pulled through a small scratch in the uninfected patient’s skin. The goal was to induce a very mild version of the infection, which (fingers-crossed) would subside in a few weeks and create a strong resistance to smallpox.
Early adopters of variolation did not include England, which considered itself the world leader in medical expertise, which it wasn’t. However, enough prominent physicians had used it effectively in the 1600s and early 1700s to finally convince the government to approve its use against smallpox in the early 1720s, with the full support of the Royal Family. Remember, at this point scientists had almost no understanding of how viruses and bacteria caused disease. Predictably, there was public outcry against variolation—the precursor to today’s anti-vaxers—not just in Great Britain, but in the American colonies, as well. To many, giving someone a dreaded disease they didn’t have seemed crazy and dangerous. In Boston, clergyman Cotton Mather was the target of a bomb for his advocation of variolation. The explosive hurled through his window contained a note that read You dog, dam [sic] you; I’ll inoculate you with this; with a pox to you.

Mather was a controversial public figure who had his hands in just about everything in the Massachusetts colony and was nothing if not a paradox. For example, he was devoted to importing Newtonian science to the American wilderness on the one hand while, on the other, he was the guy who set up the Salem Witch Trials. Mather learned of variolation not from Newton or other British scientists but from a Libyan slave he received in 1703 as a gift, who he rechristened Onesimus (his real name is lost to history). Curious about the scars on the man’s body, Mather listened as Onesimus explained how North African cultures dealt with smallpox. He then spearheaded a variolation campaign during an outbreak in Boston that yielded spectacular results. And took all the credit, of course.

Within a generation, our Founding Fathers had all hopped on the variolation stagecoach. Benjamin Franklin convinced English physician William Heberden to produce a pamphlet touting the success of smallpox inoculation (a word borrowed from horticulture, originally related to the grafting of plants) and distributed it free of charge throughout the 13 colonies. Two decades earlier, Franklin had lost a son at age four to smallpox. The pamphlet included do-it-yourself instruction for home inoculations—a forerunner of YouTube videos for DIYers. George Washington contracted smallpox as a young man, which some have theorized was responsible for his inability to produce offspring with Martha. True or not, it did make him immune to the smallpox outbreaks that would ravage military camps during the American Revolution. One of Washington’s lesser known edicts as commander of the Continental Army was that his soldiers had to be variolated. During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, he personally conducted inoculation experiments on his slaves at Monticello, demonstrating both his enlightened approach to science and his unenlightened regard for human freedom and dignity.

Vaccines Arrive

There were worse jobs for young ladies in 18th century Europe than being a milkmaid, but like most occupations it came with its own set of risks. Repeated contact with a cow’s udder, especially by someone with broken or abrased skin common to farm work, was an invitation to contract cowpox, which produced pustules on the hands and forearms. The disease was considered an occupational hazard—rarely serious and, once a girl got it, she didn’t get it again. And, farmers began to notice, those girls didn’t contract smallpox, either—even after close contact with workers or family members who did. In 1774, smallpox began tearing through the county of Dorset in the south of England. A farmer named Benjamin Jesty used fluid from cowpox lesions to successfully inoculate his wife and children against smallpox. Over the next 20 years, similar stories caught the attention of scientists. Another piece of the puzzle was that British cavalry officers tended to dodge smallpox outbreaks, presumably from exposure to horsepox, a close relative of cowpox.

In 1796, English scientists Edward Jenner made the big breakthrough. He took a sample of pus from the lesion of a cowpox-infected milkmaid and injected it into an 8-year-old boy who had never had smallpox. Six weeks later he injected smallpox into the boy, who was the son of his gardener—which poses some uncomfortable questions about Jenner’s moral compass—but lo and behold, there was no reaction! Jenner called this process vaccination, from vacca, the Latin word for cow. Recent DNA research suggests that the disease Jenner was working with may have been transferred from horses to cow, possibly through farriers, whose farm duties often involved shoeing horses and milking cows. In which case you could say that we are all getting equivaccinations this year.

Vaccinations caught on quickly in the United States and, in 1813, President James Madison signed a bill creating the National Vaccine Agency. Part of that bill waived postage fees for vaccine material. England went one better, making vaccination of infants mandatory; if parents refused, they faced possible imprisonment. In 1863, little more than halfway through Abraham Lincoln’s first term as President, he contracted smallpox and was desperately ill for a month before recovering. His valet, William Henry Johnson, was not so lucky. He caught smallpox from Lincoln and was dead by the end of January. He had worked with Lincoln going back to his Springfield days. Some historians posit that the president contracted the disease around the time he delivered his Gettysburg Address, which in retrospect had all the earmarks of a textbook super-spreader event.

The next breakthrough in vaccines was discovered, somewhat accidentally, by Louis Pasteur in 1879. The French biologist was the first person to create a vaccine in a lab. An oversight by an assistant during an experiment with chicken cholera demonstrated that exposure to oxygen makes bacteria less deadly. This led the way to several more discoveries, including the rabies vaccine in 1885. By the turn of the century, researchers in the U.S. and Europe were beginning to get the upper hand on typhoid and cholera and, by World War I, the first vaccines for these diseases were becoming available.

At War with Disease

There were setbacks, of course, including a terrible story here in New Jersey, where nine children died from tainted smallpox vaccines. That incident led to the Biologics Control Act, which was passed in 1902. However, then as now, the increasing involvement of the government in public health was not always appreciated. In England and America, there was small but vocal opposition to vaccinations, mostly citing an infringement on personal freedom. Massachusetts was the first state to make smallpox vaccinations mandatory and the resulting lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1905, the court upheld the constitutionality of the program in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. In 1909, Americans learned the story of Mary Mallon, the woman dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the press. She was what we now call an asymptomatic spreader of the disease, who worked as a cook for several wealthy families and, later, for hospitals, hotels and restaurants. Everywhere she worked (often gaining employment under a fake name) a typhoid outbreak soon followed. Mallon finally had to be quarantined on North Brother Island, near Riker’s Island in New York’s East River.

The need for further progress on the vaccine front was made particularly clear in the waning days of the First World War, when the Spanish Flu—which probably originated in a U.S. Army camp in Kansas—spread across the planet and killed tens of millions people. It was a particularly powerful version of the H1N1 influenza virus; it took a particularly high toll on young, healthy adults, who normally weathered the flu without incident. It spread fast, killed quickly and if a patient’s lungs filled with fluid, there was nothing doctors could do. If you got it, you went to bed and waited:
On the last day of that year, 1918, I went up to the shop with a bad cold. Influenza had been raging in [Norwood, MA], the hospital was crowded, and there were deaths almost daily. About two hours after going to work, I collapsed. It had got me. I was taken home, went to bed and a doctor was summoned. I was past 70, but he was the first doctor since my birth who had ever been called to treat me. He found me in great pain, temperature 104, but said my lungs were not affected. For several days as I lay in bed, I did a deal of thinking. I thought it was probable that I was near the end of the race, but I had no dread. I was comforted that I had been able to keep up the payments on my life insurance, and that my wife would have the use of it in her old age.
This patient, my great-grandfather George Stewart, survived to write this account before he died, in 1925. He was never the same, however. George was unable to walk more than a short distance or do anything that required strength, including ascending the flight of stairs leading to the second floor of his home. In his defense, I know those stairs. They are weirdly steep and are available if a movie company is interested in remaking the Hitchcock classic Vertigo. The point here is that the world became fixated on understanding how the influenza virus mutates and spreads, the long-term impact for survivors, and what could be done to give humans a fighting chance. A century has passed and we are still addressing these challenges.

How To Make a Vaccine

The first important step in creating an effective, mass-produced flu vaccine was to develop a process for growing (or culturing) viruses in large quantities. Scientists already knew how to culture bacteria—give them a comfy medium and they’re off to the races—which was the key to making vaccines for bacterial illnesses. However, viruses don’t reproduce on their own. A virus must first infect a cell before using the cell to make copies of itself, and at the time of the Spanish Flu there was no method for growing viruses outside of a living host. The breakthrough came in the mid-1930s, when two English researchers discovered separately that the flu virus could be grown on the membranes of fertilized hens’ eggs—and soon after isolated the first neutralized antibodies. One of the U.S. scientists working on the flu vaccine at this time was Dr. Jonas Salk, who used what he’d learned in the 1930s to tackle polio in the 1950s.

The U.S. President during this era was Franklin Roosevelt, who had been stricken with polio as a young man. His inability to walk or stand was the best-kept/worst-kept secret in America. During a 1938 radio broadcast, entertainer Eddie Cantor, whose program had an audience of millions, pitched the idea of sending dimes to the White House to help fund polio research. Listeners sent more than 2 million dimes to Washington, triggering a grassroots effort that involved several more national celebrities and eventually became known as The March of Dimes. A year after FDR passed away, his profile replaced the head of the winged liberty on the silver 10-cent piece, commonly known as the Mercury dime. Reach into your pocket and you’ll notice that this coin still bears his image.

Building on a wave of discoveries by virologists and epidemiologists, over the next three decades, life-saving vaccines came fast and furious, including increasingly effective flu vaccines, Diphtheria-Tetanus for infants, and measles and mumps vaccines. The crowning achievement of the post-war era was the creation of an effective injectable polio vaccine by Dr. Salk. Salk’s work followed several research breakthroughs dating back to the 1930s and was ready for testing in 1952, the same year polio cases in the U.S. surged over 50,000. Testing proceeded over the next two years, culminating in the Francis Field Trial, which involved more than 1.8 million schoolchildren. It was the largest medical experiment in history at that time and the results were extremely positive, despite a one-man anti-vax campaign waged by gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Winchell “uncovered” that several monkeys had died during initial testing and labeled the Salk vaccine a killer, likening it to a phony cancer cure—and adding that even if the vaccine were 99% effective, well, that wasn’t good enough. Winchell was what we would now call an “influencer”…more than 150,000 parents pulled their children out of the study.

Nevertheless, the Salk vaccine was licensed in 1955 and, thanks to an ingenious “rocking bottle” manufacturing method developed by a team led by Canadian biochemist Leone Farrell, went instantly into mass production. An interesting sidenote is that when Salk traveled to Toronto to meet with Farrell’s team, she was barred from the reception because it was held in a men’s-only club. Farrell was an astonishing figure in medicine who is largely forgotten today; she later devised a way to accelerate penicillin production.

Where We Are, Where We’re Going

Over the last 30 years, vaccines have successfully tackled countless health issues in the U.S. and around the world, including hepatitis, shingles, cervical cancer and the H5N1 avian flu. However, viruses are nimble and clever. When faced with obstacles, they do what we do: evolve and mutate in order to survive. That’s why we get flu shots every year and why sometimes they are only 50% effective. And that’s why scientists are still looking for ways to eradicate tuberculosis, malaria, Lyme disease and hepatitis C. And HIV. And the common cold.

Keep in mind, too, that it takes a billion or more dollars and a decade of research and testing to develop a viable vaccine, and even with government funding, often private industry and investment funds determine what’s “worth” the time, money, effort and risk…and what’s not.

The arrival of COVID-19 on American shores in the winter of 2019–20 and our less-than-stellar response to the virus (including the politicizing of mask-wearing) will leave a public-health and also a cultural legacy that is certain to be with us for a long time. What we will probably forget pretty quickly is how vaccines were going into arms within a year of the start of the pandemic. That is an insanely short period of time to develop a vaccine for a virus that seemed to have everyone baffled at first.

How did it happen so quickly? The short answer is computers. Once the COVID-19 genome was posted by Chinese researchers, the vaccine could essentially be created on a computer screen and then go right into manufacturing. Also, no one in the vaccine game starts from scratch or goes it alone. The COVID-19 vaccines out there now had a scientific running start, which was further accelerated by Operation Warp Speed. The running start in this case were the multiple safe and effective vaccine platforms created since Edward Jenner started tinkering with cowpox. COVID researchers looked at which ones were most likely to offer the highest level of immunity and produce the least side effects, and then got right into determining which proteins, or viral antigens, would generate an immune response that would protect people from the disease.

As it turned out, the quick-turnaround vaccines used mRNA and vector-based platforms. The vector-based strategy was developed in the fight against SARS. Since the viral enemy is technically SARS-CoV-2, that seems logical. The mRNA platform was utilized in treating Zika a few years ago. What both have in common is that they did not exist in the 20th century. They are relatively new but appear to be safe. What is still in question is how long vaccinations will last—like the flu vaccine, we may need a new one every year—and whether they will be effective against the variants that will almost certainly develop in the coming months.

So is 2021 the Year of the Cat? Did we catch and kill the mouse? It may be too early to claim total victory. The mouse undoubtedly has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Also, human behavior is nothing if not unpredictable; even when Americans are “fully vaccinated,” there will be outliers who refuse the needle. And finally, just because we are vaccinated, that doesn’t mean they are. And by they I mean a billion or more people in developing countries who are unlikely to be offered, or avail themselves of, a vaccine—or who fall prey to supply-chain problems, as happened in India this past spring.

This is where the mouse loves to play. Hopefully the cat is watching. EDGE

Under the Radar

Medical breakthroughs you may have missed during the pandemic.

With the 2020–21 news cycle hyper-focused on COVID-19, these five advances in medicine went almost unnoticed…

Unforgettable

We may look back at 2020 as the year that we quietly turned the corner on Alzheimer’s, thanks to a couple of important breakthroughs in identifying biomarkers, as well as the development of a new drug. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA approved Flortaucipir, a radioactive diagnostic agent used to image tau neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. In October, doctors began using the new PrecivityAD blood test to determine whether a patient is likely to have the presence (or absence) of amyloid plaques in the brain, which is a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. In early November, the human monoclonal antibody Aducanumab—the first new drug in a generation to treat Alzheimer’s—moved an important step closer to final FDA approval. In addition to these news items, dozens of major non-drug studies on the effects of supplements, diet, exercise and sleep on cognitive decline continued to generate mounds of useful data for the prediction, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The Doctor Can See You Now

A couple of years ago, fewer than one in 500 doctor visits in the U.S. were virtual. Although the technology was in place, the impetus for patients, health providers and insurers just wasn’t. That all changed when we began masking up and hunkering down. Around one in 10 interactions fell under the Telehealth heading during the early months of the pandemic. While the healthcare industry is still sorting through the Mt. Everest of new data this shift generated, it is safe to say that Telehealth is no longer a solution looking for a problem to solve. At Trinitas, Telehealth has enabled the adult Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) program to serve a larger audience at a critical time.
“Distance from our location does not have to be a barrier any more— explains Essie Larson, Ph.D., and co-director of the DBT Institute at the hospital. “The pandemic also allowed for large-scale research around the world to be conducted on the effectiveness of DBT in a virtual modality. The results are indicating not only great success, but also better attendance rates. While virtual services may not be a fit for everyone, having it as an option for either ongoing therapy or for occasional sessions—due to barriers such as bad weather, illness or car trouble, for example—is wonderful.”
It may have taken a pandemic to provide proof of concept, but Telehealth has become a tool ideally suited for a wide range of challenges to the traditional face-to-face, doctor-patient relationship, including continuity of care, triage and plain old capacity.

Game Changers

Last fall, the American Heart Association proclaimed SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP-1 receptor agonists—blood-sugar control medications that are prescribed primarily for Type 2 diabetes—as being game-changers for patients with higher risks for cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease. “There are many drugs available to treat diabetes that lower the patient’s blood sugar,” says Dr. Ari Eckman, an endocrinologist at Trinitas. “The class of drugs of SGL2 inhibitors and GLP-1 agonists not only lowers the patient’s blood sugar—which is important in managing their diabetes—but it has also been shown to decrease the risk of complications of heart disease and kidney disease. This is an additional benefit to using these excellent medications for patients with diabetes.”
The drugs have been around for over a decade but have not been widely prescribed for diabetics with these conditions. Clinical trials completed earlier in 2020 found that SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP-1 RAs can safely and significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and death, reduce hospitalization and slow the progression of chronic to end-stage kidney disease.

Extra Cheese, Please

A large-scale Iowa State University study of the connection between specific foods and later-in-life cognitive acuity confirms what we all secretly suspected: that the benefits of wine and cheese keep paying dividends long after the wine and cheese party is over. Of all the foods evaluated, cheese was shown to be the most protective against age-related cognitive problems. And moderate regular consumption of red wine was associated with improvements in cognitive function. Other tidbits from the Iowa State results were that excessive salt intake is bad, particularly for individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s (we knew that already) and that, among the red meats, only lamb was shown to improve long-term cognitive ability (good news…unless you are a lamb).

Itching for a Solution

Any parent who has dealt with the nightmare of head lice will appreciate the FDA’s approval of Abametapir, a lotion applied to dry hair and rinsed out with water after 10 to 15 minutes. In clinical trials it was 80% effective at ridding the hair of children 6 months and older of the little buggers. Although virtual learning dramatically curtailed the number of cases in the U.S. of kids with head lice—which in some past school years touched 10 million—lice aren’t going anywhere. Indeed, many have started to develop a resistance to tried and true treatments.
“This new treatment,” says Dr. William Farrer, an infectious disease specialist at Trinitas, “requires a prescription, but does not require a second application, as older treatments often do. When it becomes available, it may be a significant improvement in the treatment of head lice.”

Nothing Shocking About It

ECT is shedding Hollywood myths and restoring the rhythm of mental health.

John Lanier is the kind of healthcare professional who wears his life experience like a badge of honor. Having experienced Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) as a professional who helped patients prepare for and reorient after treatments—and then later as a patient himself—he offers an analogy to help people understand the fundamental aspects of ECT.
“Defibrillation shocks your heart to get it back into its proper rhythm,” he says. “It unscrambles and restarts everything. ECT does that for your brain. What we see on TV and in the movies—the flailing, the violent seizing—it doesn’t happen. There’s minimal seizing activity…more like muscle cramping. It isn’t a barbaric procedure at all.”

In 1973, at the age of 19, Lanier (left), now Program Coordinator for Nursing Performance Improvement at Trinitas Regional Medical Center, was treated for severe depression with ECT. Before that, he was a Psychiatric Technician at the Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead, helping patients prepare for ECT and then reorient afterwards. Lanier recalls waking up from the anesthesia after one of his own treatments with a breakfast tray in front of him. He had no pain or immediate memories of experiencing the treatment. And in the long run, he says, it worked.
Lanier’s childhood was worse than your typical unhappy childhood, but he made it through high school. However, after one year of college, too depressed to function, he quit.
“I had been going to therapy and taking medication for a month, but my depression wasn’t responding satisfactorily,” he says. “I felt like I might be schizophrenic, and was diagnosed as having depressive neurosis.”

Whenever he encountered problems, Lanier’s first reaction was I should kill myself. Then he attempted suicide.
“I remember my therapist telling my parents that, without a more aggressive treatment, there would be future attempts,” he says, “and eventually one could be successful.”
When Lanier decided to get a job, Carrier Clinic hired him as a Psych Tech. He understood the stigma surrounding ECT, which still exists, and appreciated the difficult choice his parents faced at the time. Back in those days, he points out, “you didn’t talk about depression, and you certainly couldn’t talk about shock treatments.”
After his ECT treatments nearly five decades ago, Lanier experienced incremental changes until eventually he noticed that suicide was no longer his go-to option. “It had fallen to maybe third or fourth on my list until finally it didn’t enter my mind at all. And in 1987, he began to notice an odd sensation that felt unfamiliar, but pleasant. He felt happy.
“My parents’ decision wasn’t an easy one, but it was the right one,” Lanier says.

The Facts About ECT

The words shock treatment conjure up scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Beautiful Mind, where Electroconvulsive Therapy is portrayed as punishment for bad behavior linked to mental illness. The reality is quite different: An ultra-brief pulse of electrical current is applied unilaterally (one side of the brain, as opposed to both sides). There are minor side effects, such as initial confusion and temporary memory loss.

“There are many misconceptions about today’s ECT,” confirms Dr. Salvatore Savatta, Chair of Psychiatry at Trinitas. “People believe what they’ve heard or seen on TV and in the movies. These over-dramatizations—applied against a patient’s will—have little to do with the real-life treatments. We need to remove the stigma surrounding ECT so more people can feel comfortable seeking out and receiving the treatment they need.”
Used in tandem with traditional psychiatric medications and evidence-based psychotherapies—such as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—ECT can help complete an integrated series of treatments that bring relief from the most challenging types of depression. When a patient isn’t finding relief through psychotherapy and traditional antidepressants, Dr. Savatta says, “ECT can provide substantial relief.”

The Road Ahead

Patients like John Lanier can be counted among therapy’s great long-term success stories. With proven results and an established history as a legitimate, humane medical treatment, tens of thousands of psychiatric patients now opt to have ECT each year. Lanier’s own success story took a remarkable turn when he went to work in Carrier Clinic’s Addiction Recovery Department, and a nurse manager urged him to go back to school for nursing.
“She told me I’d made history by working at a psychiatric facility after also receiving treatment myself,” he recalls. “The Director of Occupational Therapy, who worked with me during my illness, said that with my skills and my personable nature, I’d make a good clinician. So I went back to college, and this time—since I was thriving, not just surviving— I stuck with it.”
In the months and years that followed, Lanier became a Licensed Practical Nurse, then earned his Associate Degree in Nursing from Raritan Valley Community College before earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix and finally a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii. He spent years working at Trinitas before retiring last August.
Or so he thought. Chief Nursing Officer Mary McTigue wanted Lanier’s skill set back on the job to assist with a COVID-related Department of Health project involving long-term care facilities. He returned on a per diem basis, then transitioned into a full-time role when a massive public outreach effort was organized around COVID vaccination distribution. Lanier was tasked with coordinating Trinitas’ vaccination administration centers, including Elizabeth High School, which at one point was administering more than 1,000 shots per day.
Over the course of Lanier’s entire career, including his recent return to Trinitas, he has touched tens of thousands of lives. The health of an entire community has been bolstered in part because he has been there time and again to answer the call. Without his decision to undergo ECT as a young adult, however, the community might have missed one of its most impactful members. His story is a testament to the value in ECT, and to the importance of setting the record straight when it comes to what Electroconvulsive Therapy is…and what it isn’t.
As the field continues to advance—at Trinitas and many other facilities across the state—Lanier’s story offers hope to individuals struggling to combat depression and other mental illnesses.
“I believe my experience can help other patients see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “There’s an empathy I feel towards them, because I’ve been there. To anyone struggling, I can tell you that it gets better.”

Home Sleep Home

Trinitas monitors slumber from afar.

 

Humans are good at a lot of things, but sleep isn’t always one of them. There are any number of non-medical reasons why we don’t get enough sleep—life stress, work stress, breastfeeding, bad dreams, noisy neighbors, a pet nesting on the covers or a partner hogging the sheets. Some issues you can address, others you can’t. Whatever the cause, losing sleep means you’re not rested or alert during the day, which can diminish focus, slow productivity and dangerously impair judgment.

If you are missing out on restorative sleep because of sleep apnea, however, that’s definitely a problem you can solve. Also, know that you’re not alone.

More than 23 million people in the United States have undiagnosed sleep apnea, which is kind of a staggering number given how simple testing has become. The Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center at Trinitas, located at the Homewood Suites by Hilton, in Cranford, was seeing a steady stream of patients prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While seeing patients and monitoring their sleep on-site became problematic in the spring of 2020, the center was able to shift gears and ramp up its home testing for sleep apnea thanks to a portable diagnostic device called the WatchPAT®, a small piece of equipment with three components. The PAT stands for Peripheral Arterial Tonometry, which measures arterial pulse volume changes to detect apnea events.

“It comfortably sticks to the chest with a small sensor, straps on your wrist like a watch, and slips onto your pointer finger,” says Dr. Vipin Garg, Director of the Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center. “While you sleep, information is collected by the device and sent through the WatchPAT app to your doctor. Theoretically, if I was your doctor, I would be able to look at the results of your sleep test as soon as you woke up and hit send on the app from your phone.”

 

Sawing Wood

Nearly half of all adults snore occasionally. About a quarter snore regularly. Often, snoring is the result of a treatable condition, such as a sinus infection or a deviated septum. The culprit may also be bulky throat muscles or a soft palate or uvula. And, of course, in cases when loud snoring or gasps are interspersed with pauses in breathing—sometimes 20 or 30 an hour—sleep apnea is a strong possibility.

One more annoying thing about growing old is that we are more likely to snore as we age or go through physical changes. Middle-aged men and postmenopausal women are more likely to snore where they hadn’t in the past, and weight gain is connected to increased snoring.

Whatever the reason, the sleep deprivation that often goes hand-in-hand with snoring can come with its own health and wellness issues, and has been linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

 

So who are these 23 million undiagnosed sleep apnea sufferers? If you snore, you may be one of them…and a candidate for a sleep apnea test. Snoring in and of itself is bad enough, even if it can be blamed on your anatomy, allergies, your sleep position or something else entirely. Snoring is unhealthy because when you stop breathing your oxygen level drops and makes it difficult for your brain and heart to function properly. With sleep apnea, you actually stop breathing—possibly several times per hour—which means interrupted sleep for you and anyone within earshot.

Dr. Garg says snoring “isn’t the only red flag to look out for.” There is also morning headaches, dry mouth, mood changes, pauses in breathing, snorting or gasping, insomnia, irritability and depression. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, cardiac problems, asthma, COPD and diabetes mellitus. It also causes a low oxygen level known as hypoxia, which creates a fight-or-flight response, meaning that your quickening heart beat also narrows your arteries. Undiagnosed sleep apnea also raises your risk of stroke by two or three times. You may also be at a higher risk of cardiac issues if you are older than 60, have 20 or more episodes of sleep apnea per hour and have an oxygen level of less than 78 percent while you sleep.

There are three types of sleep apnea that Dr. Garg and his sleep center staff look for when they test. Central Sleep Apnea means your brain isn’t signaling your muscles to breathe. Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is most common, is a blockage in your airway. Complex Sleep Apnea syndrome is a combination of the two.

If you need to be treated for sleep apnea, the choice with which most people are familiar is the CPAP, short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It’s a small, portable machine that keeps the upper airway open when you wear a small mask over the nose. A nasal mask is attached to the machine with tubing. It’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds and it’s most definitely the kind of thing one can get used to—and actually prefer to sleep with—to make breathing easier. The global CPAP market has been estimated at over $2 billion annually, with more than a quarter sold in the U.S.

There are some instances where surgery is the best option. For instance, removing the adenoids and tonsils—which is the most common treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea in children—nasal polyps or anything else blocking the airway can solve the problem. You may also be a candidate for an uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) to remove the excess tissue from the back of the throat.

No matter what you and your doctor decide, the path to a better night’s sleep begins with testing. And testing begins at home.

 

 

Editor’s Note: The Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center at Trinitas was the first hotel-based sleep center in New Jersey. For more information call Dr. Garg at (908) 994-8694.

 

Crazy 8

In a day and age when social media and family drama pulls us in so many directions, and the line between work and home is increasingly blurred, the idea we grew up with—“everyone needs eight hours of sleep”—would almost seem quaint if it didn’t sound so crazy. And while some people can truly thrive on five or six hours a night, sleep experts maintain that the traditional range of seven to nine hours a night is still a solid number. Seniors can get away with slightly less, while children actually need more for proper growth and development. So when your teenager is heading into his or her tenth hour of unconsciousness, don’t take it personally. It’s just nature doing its job.

If you sense that you’re not getting enough sleep, trust your instincts and talk to a doctor. Research shows that six hours or less can increase anxiety, affect your decision-making and create a general fog that is unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Sleep apnea is not a slam-dunk diagnosis. It may be that you play a lot of sports or have a labor-intensive job, or that you’re hitting the caffeine a little too hard. There may be a coexisting health issue.

Fever Pitch

An insider’s guide to taking your temperature.

The most-measured quantity on earth is time. That makes sense. However, did you know that the second most-measured quantity is temperature? Think of all the devices that monitor hot and cold in your life, from the ones that regulate your heating and cooling system and your car, to the ones in your kitchen appliances and your computer. And, of course, there is one of the most important pieces of medical equipment in your home—the clinical thermometer—which measures body temperature and is the subject of this story.

Interestingly, what all of the aforementioned measuring devices have in common is that they share a single ancestor, one that looked a lot like the old glass-and-mercury thermometer, which, not for nothing, should no longer be in your medicine cabinet (but probably still is). More on this in “Getting Rid of Mercury” on page 43.

Taking your temperature (or someone else’s) doesn’t involve much in the way of experience or artistry. However, there are a few hard and fast rules that are easy to forget if you’re not feeling well. For example, if you’re taking your temperature orally, wait a good 15 to 30 minutes after eating or drinking to get an accurate reading. If you’ve taken a medication designed to lower a fever, like Tylenol, wait six hours before using a thermometer to ensure your numbers are correct. And if you take your temp under the armpit, remember it must touch skin and not clothing (a surprisingly common mistake).

“Normal” temperatures for an adult range between 97 and 99 degrees. The range is slightly broader for children—95.9 to 99.5—while the normal range for infants is a tick higher at 97.9 to 100.4. According to Cheryl Meyer, RN, CEN, Assistant Director of the Trinitas Emergency Department, an infant with a temperature above 100.4 should be seen right away by a medical professional. The same goes for children with a fever above 102 and an adult with a temperature north of 103. A low-grade fever lasting more than a few days is also worth a call to your physician.

What does a fever mean? It means your body is fighting an illness (such as a virus) or infection of some kind. Fevers are often accompanied by other symptoms—typically chills, headaches and body aches, but also more severe symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea and convulsions. COVID-19 symptoms, as we all know by now, are often characterized by a dry cough, exhaustion and breathing difficulty. There are ways to check for a fever without a thermometer, but they are unlikely to be accurate, especially if you are feeling your own forehead.

What does a high temperature reading tell you?

“It is usually indicative of infection and/or sepsis,” says Meyer. “However, a high temperature also could reflect an exposure to heat—such as when a child is left in a car…or if someone is left exposed to the heat for a long time, due to a medical emergency or accident, and they can’t seek shelter. Whatever the cause, you need to seek immediate medical attention.”

What can an unusually low temperature tell you? Meyer says that it can be the result of exposure to the environment—“such as our homeless population or someone who maybe was confused and got lost in and was exposed to the cold.” Be aware that it also can be caused by sepsis and/or infection, she adds.

Thermometer Basics

Thermometers take a patient’s temperature in five different ways, and each has a name: Oral/Sub-Lingual (under the tongue), Axillary (under the armpit), Rectal (in the rectum), Tympanic (in the ear) and Temporal (on the forehead). There are two essential parts to any medical thermometer, the sensor and the means of converting the result into something readable. For glass or plastic thermometers, the sensor is that little bulb located on the business end of the thermometer. For infrared thermometers, a pyrometric sensor gathers the data. Once a reading is complete, you get a number—either as a digital readout, or using those hashmarks on an old-school thermometer.

Okay, let’s get this part out of the way. The most accurate temperature reading is the rectal one. It is still the method of choice for infants. And also animals. Most people find oral temperature-taking boring or unpleasant, but for adults and children capable of keeping the thermometer under the tongue, this is the method of choice. If a person is unconscious or coughing heavily, sub-lingual may not be the answer, even with fast-reading digital models. In these cases, medical professionals choose between the ear and the armpit. An axillary reading can take five-plus minutes to be accurate and, even at that, many doctors mentally add a degree.

 

Getting Rid of Mercury

Do you have an old-school mercury and glass thermometer in your medicine cabinet? If so, be aware that it contains half a gram of elemental mercury. That’s not enough to kill you (or even seriously harm you) if you somehow swallowed it (the vapors from the mercury are actually far more harmful), but all the mercury adds up when people start throwing their old thermometers away by the tens of millions. To properly dispose of a mercury thermometer, place it inside a plastic container or glass jar, fill the container with something oil-absorbent (like cat litter or sand) and mark it “Contains Mercury” with a Sharpie. Your town or county will have a hazardous chemical drop-off site where you can dispose of it properly.

 

Temporal thermometers are simple to use and very accurate between 97 and 100. Which, if you’re curious, is how that random dude at the front of Trader Joe’s became, literally, a front-line worker last year. A similar device is now being used on wrists instead of foreheads. Recent studies have shown that it is 95% accurate in terms of fever-screening ability—the same or better than forehead readings. Wrist scanners work because the artery is very close to the surface of the skin.

The Road to 98.6

Most of us have been ingrained with the knowledge that the ideal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Did you ever wonder who decided this, and how? It was a German physician and psychiatrist named Carl Wunderlich in the 1860s. He averaged out over a million (mostly armpit) readings and determined that the temperature of healthy people fell between 97.3 and 99.5, with an average within that range of 98.6.

Medical professionals are quick to point out that your temperature is usually lower in the morning than in the afternoon, often by a degree or more, so there is no reason to be wed to 98.6, other than it has been drilled into our heads since childhood. Many believe the more accurate average number is between 97.5 and 97.9. Why the drop? In the century-plus since Wunderlich’s time, humans have gotten fatter and have lower metabolic rates. The less heat your body has to make to keep all its parts going, the lower your temperature will be.

While we’re on the topic of history, it’s worth noting that the basic principles behind the thermometer were known in ancient Greece more than 2,500 years ago. However, the first device you’d think of as approaching a “modern” thermometer was pioneered by Santorio Santorio (right) at the University of Padua in the early 1600s. Galileo, who was on a first-name basis with the professor, is believed to have had some input—as did other scientists who were exchanging ideas in Venice at the time. Temperature-taking was all the rage in 17th century Europe, it seems. Santorio’s invention used the expansion of water, not mercury, to show changes in temperature and was called a thermoscope. It became a thermometer after a standardized scale was added. The first scale measured only eight different “degrees.”

Over the next century, scientists tinkered with non-water liquids, including brandy. In 1701, Isaac Newton proposed that thermometers be standardized to measure the difference between the melting point of ice and the temperature of the human body, with 12 degrees separating the two measurements. In 1714, a Dutch inventor found mercury to be the most reliable and sensitive thermometer-filler. His name was Daniel Fahrenheit and he made a nice living manufacturing mercury thermometers. In 1742, a Swedish physicist proposed a new temperature scale, which used 100 to express the freezing point of water and 0 for the boiling point of water. His name was Anders Celsius (right), and his colleagues loved the idea…with one small tweak: They flipped the script, making 0 the cold end and 100 the hot end. Outside of the academic community, almost no one in America has the faintest idea how Celsius works, so don’t feel bad.

The first doctor who stuck a thermometer into a person as part of his patient practice was Herman Boerhaave (left), a Dutch chemist and physician who founded the first European teaching hospital at the University of Leiden in the early 1700s. His patients were none too thrilled about the idea—it took up to a half-hour to obtain an accurate reading, so no matter the input, the process was tedious and unpleasant. And if you think that’s a long time, consider that it took 150 more years to cut the temperature-taking times down to five minutes.

That breakthrough came after years of tinkering by a British scientist named (I swear I am not making this up) Thomas Allbutt (right). Just as thrilling was the fact that his clinical thermometer was only six inches long—half the (yikes) standard length during the early 1800s. Later in life, Allbutt was rewarded for his ingenuity by being appointed a Commissioner of Lunacy for England and Wales. Oh, and by the way, if you think wearing a mask and getting your forehead scanned is annoying, imagine waiting in line to get into Whole Foods only to encounter a 12-inch thermometer at the front door!

New Temp Tech

Thankfully, about 20 years ago, the temporal artery thermometer was unveiled by Exergen. A two-second forehead scan is all that’s needed to obtain an accurate temperature now. Dr. Frank Pompeii, who has a wall full of degrees from Harvard and MIT, developed this technology in the 1990s. Before forehead-scanning devices became affordable, you may recall that electronic ear thermometers—which measure blood temp with an infrared probe—were very popular. They came on the market in the late-1960s, courtesy of a German doctor named Theodor Benzinger, who emigrated to the U.S. after World War II and went to work for the Navy. He was actually experimenting with ways to measure brain temperature without the use of electrodes. Benzinger determined that the blood vessels coursing through the ear drum are shared with the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. The drawback to ear thermometers is that they can fail to detect a fever if a patient has significant wax build-up, or the probe records the temperature of the external ear canal and not the part containing the ear drum’s blood vessels.

In conclusion, and to underscore an earlier point, the newer, safer methods for temperature-taking have made the mercury-and-glass thermometer entirely obsolete. Starting around 20 years ago, states began banning their sale and the National Institute of Standards and Technology stopped calibrating mercury thermometers a decade ago.

Although mercury is arguably the most beautiful and captivating of the elements, it also happens to be a neurotoxin that is almost impossible to clean up once it escapes its container. It’s bad stuff, so please say goodbye to your mercury thermometer if you haven’t already. 

 

 

Editor’s Note: From the “Don’t Try This at Home” Department, the highest recorded human temperature was 115.7 degrees. Willie Jones of Atlanta set the record during a summer heat wave in 1980 and suffered no apparent ill effects. “Based on studies,” his doctor told reporters at a press conference, “Mr. Jones should not be sitting here next to me. He was as close to death as anyone gets.”

 

Seeing Red

Mercury isn’t the only substance used in thermometers. Think of all the souvenir and advertising thermometers you’ve seen in your life. Some people actually collect them. The red stuff they contain is dyed alcohol or ethanol. It’s not as accurate as mercury and is not dangerous if the thermometer breaks. The substance is accurate up to 172 degrees, so it’s really only good for measuring air and body temperature.

Ask Dr. D’Angelo

Surf’s Up! What’s your Beach IQ?

Countless thousands of Garden Staters will head to the Jersey Shore this summer to enjoy a day at the beach. For an unlucky few, that will translate into a night in the ER. Or worse. Truth be told, luck has very little to do with beach-related emergencies. Playing it smart while you play in the water not only keeps you and your family safe, it can help prevent long-term medical issues, too.

How much sun is too much sun?

Emergency Department physicians deal with the pain experienced by patients who have gotten too much sun exposure. I’ve heard some dermatologists say, “A good tan could be the first sign of skin cancer.” That is an extreme statement, but the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes. Wear sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection with a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and reapply it often.

How often is often?

Every 2 to 4 hours, especially after swimming or sweating. That’s also true far from the beach, particularly at higher elevations.

What other precautions should I take?

Seek shade, especially during the midday hours [10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) when the sun is strongest. Wear a hat to protect your head and clothing to protect exposed skin. Also, wear sunglasses with UV ray protection to protect your eyes.

How about kids?

Keep babies less than 6 months of age out of the sun, and do not put sunblock on them. The chemicals in sunblock could potentially harm babies. Otherwise, the same basic sunscreen and sun-exposure rules for adults apply to children. It’s really important, by the way, to teach them the importance of protecting their skin, because you won’t always be supervising them when they are outdoors.

How dangerous is the water along the Atlantic Coast?

I worked in Florida for the first 6 years of my career and had the unfortunate experience of witnessing the unthinkable, so trust me when I say never, ever turn your back on the ocean, or underestimate its power—even on the most placid beach days. Drowning is the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States. It is the leading cause of death among boys 5 to 14 years of age worldwide and the second-leading cause of injury-related death among children 1 to 4 years of age in the United States.

What are some precautions I can take when my kids are in the water?

Supervise young children at all times, even when they are only near the water. And by water I am including creeks, canals, rivers, lakes, hot tubs, pools and bathtubs. It can take only a matter of seconds for a child to accidentally drown. At the beach, make sure each child is swimming with a “buddy”—not another child, but an adult who is designated to enter the water with them. Obviously, you want to teach children to swim and make sure they understand basic water safety. For example, they should know that if they are swept up by a rip current to swim parallel to the shore instead of fighting against it. Adults should know this, too. Many don’t.

In a potential drowning emergency, what do I do?

Identify your surroundings and call for help—make sure a lifeguard or someone with a phone calls 911 to initiate an emergency response medical team. If an unconscious victim is in shallow water (where you can stand) administer five short rescue breaths while still in the water and then proceed to land. Once on land, the victim should be placed on his or her back, airway open. Check to see if the victim is breathing. If not, give another 5 rescue breaths and check for a pulse. If there is no pulse, begin CPR: 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths, then repeat the cycle. If vomiting occurs, turn victim onto his side to clear the airway.

Wait, I have to learn CPR?

Yes. Not only for your children’s sake, but for the safety of everyone at the beach. You don’t have to become an expert in ocean rescues—remember, you need to be a strong swimmer before attempting to rescue a swimmer in distress or you could become a victim yourself—but you should be able to administer CPR to a near drowning victim.

Isn’t that the lifeguard’s job?

Yes, again. Which is why you want to swim near areas that have lifeguards on duty whenever possible. But there could come a time when you are the person standing between life and death, and it might be a friend or family member in need of attention.

What are some common water safety mistakes boaters make?

Alcohol consumption is a big one. Consuming alcohol impairs cognitive function which can lead to poor judgment. Another is not having a sufficient number of Coast Guard approved life jackets for the passengers aboard. Make sure there are age-appropriate life jackets for children, and do not accept foam toys or air-filled toys as substitutes for life jackets. A classic mistake boaters make is not checking the weather conditions before heading to the water.

RED MENACE

When it comes to protecting the skin from the sun, some people need to be more cautious than others. You are likely to be at highest risk for melanoma—the third most common skin cancer—if you have…

• a history of multiple sunburns
• lighter skin color*
• red or blond color hair
• multiple moles on your skin
• a suppressed immune system
• a personal history of skin cancer
• a family history of skin cancer

* The risk of melanoma is 10 percent greater for light-skinned people than for dark-skinned people, but everyone should protect their skin— and schedule routine skin exams by a physician or dermatologist.

Did You Know?

Your eyes are covered with ‘skin’ called the cornea. It too, can burn and suffer irreparable sun damage. A good pair of sunglasses in summer should be as important as carrying your cell phone.

 

Editor’s Note: John D’Angelo, DO, is the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. He has been instrumental in introducing key emergency medical protocols at Trinitas, including the life-saving Code STemi, which significantly reduces the amount of time it takes for cardiac patients to move from the emergency setting to the cardiac catheterization lab for treatment.

2 4 6 8

Problem-solving by the numbers

By Dr. Rodger Goddard

Life is a journey with constant challenges.  We all face issues and problems on a daily basis.  Some of us enjoy and embrace the life challenges that cross our path, while some of us fear, dislike and run from them.  Some of us are invigorated and some of us are overwhelmed by our issues. It is difficult to know what makes some of us enjoy problem-solving and some of us fear problems.  The 2–4–6–8 Method can help give you the power to know when and how to solve problems yourself…and, just as important, when to seek help.

The 2–4–6–8 Method holds that there are 2 approaches to solving problems, 4 types of problems, 6 ways to assess our problems and 8 basic problem-solving strategies…

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The two approaches to problem-solving involve either solving a problem yourself or getting help from someone else.  People who try to solve problems on their own are sometimes successful, however, sometimes they get stuck. People who reach out to others—whether friends or professionals—often get the help and support they need to sail through the stormy waters of life. That being said, it is not always an either/or situation. It can be self-defeating to either avoid getting help from others or be overly dependent on others and not trust your own problem solving skills.

The four types of problems that you may face are:

  • Work Problems, which may involve job, financial, money, coworker or boss difficulties;
  • Love Problems, which may involve
  • Family Problems, which may involve difficulties or conflict with parents, siblings or children;
  • Internal Problems, which may involve dealing with childhood wounds, past traumas or intense inner emotions

The six ways to assess a problem are by looking at the areas of Thought, Emotion, Action, Frequency, Duration and Intensity. Thought refers to how we think about and view our problem. Are our thoughts, for example, helping to solve our problem? Or are they self-critical, condemning or working against us and therefore exaggerating or making our problem worse? Emotion refers to the feelings that a problem brings up in us, and how we handle those feelings. Can we name what we are feeling (e.g. sad, anxious, guilty, angry, insecure, shame or rage)? Are we able to make friends with our feelings and get information from them about what we want and need? Or do we let our emotions overwhelm and injure our health? Action refers to the positive or negative behaviors that we do in response to our problem. Does our problem lead us to say bad things to people—or try to shop, drink, smoke, drug or eat our problem away? Frequency refers to how often a problem or difficulty occurs. Does it trouble us once a month, week, day, hour or minute? Duration refers to how long our problem lasts when it comes. Does it cause us to feel bad for a couple of minutes and then go away, or do we feel terrible for hours, days, weeks, months or years? Finally, Intensity refers to the degree of distress the problem causes. Does it lead us to be mildly uncomfortable and irritable, or so intensely upset that we are ready to explode?

The eight problem-solving strategies in the 2–4–6–8 Method are Communication, Love, Creativity, Fight, Action, Steady Patient Work, Finding Meaning and Emotional Intelligence. To keep them straight, I find it helpful to use the metaphor of the mythical meaning of the planets in our solar system. For example, in mythology, Mercury represents Communication. Strategy #1 involves communicating with others to resolve problems.

Venus represents Love. Strategy #2 involves finding better ways to care for yourself or the people around you in order to feel better and solve your problems.

In mythology, Earth is the Goddess Gaea. Gaea represents mother, birth and Creativity. Problem-solving Strategy #3 involves being artistic, creative and using innovative thoughts to find solutions. The next planet, Mars, is the God of War. Strategy #4—a Martian strategy, as it were—involves being tough and willing to Fight against the negative thing you are facing in the world or in yourself. Jupiter (Zeus) represents power, leadership and control. Strategy #5 involves creating a plan to take charge of the issues that you face and putting that plan into Action.

Saturn is the God of time. People who use a Saturn strategy—Strategy #6—take time to digest and respond to their problems. This involves patience, long-term planning and Steady, Patient Work over a long period of time. They know that continual small actions enable them to change a situation, whether it’s something about themselves, another person or a relationship.

Uranus is the God of heavens and the night sky, and is often viewed as representing a person’s embracing their uniqueness and individuality. Strategy #7 involves Finding Meaning in the larger-life aspects of your problems, of seeing your life as a spiritual journey of discovery. Neptune, the god of the sea, represents Strategy #8, Emotional Intelligence. The turbulent sea represents emotions and everything going on beneath the surface. People who employ a Neptune strategy use their feelings and emotions to guide them. They penetrate into the underlying core meaning and essence of a problem and use their feelings to find direction and answers.

If you are someone who embraces and uses active problem-solving strategies, keep up the great work. The 2–4–6–8 Method is an important and effective thing to have in your toolbox. However, if you find yourself overwhelmed by your problems—if the frequency, duration and intensity of your problems are high, and you have trouble using effective strategies to solve your problems—then it may be time to get professional help. Professional help today involves building your problem-solving skills, so you can still use the 2–4–6–8 Method to better understand your situation and your resources for solving it.

Life is a journey of discovery and challenges on a stormy sea. The 2–4–6–8 Method can help you determine whether you can navigate these challenges on your own, or if you need help in getting to peaceful, calm waters. May the journey of your life be invigorating, fun, spiritual, challenging and fulfilling. I wish you good sailing.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Rodger Goddard has served as the Chief Psychologist at Trinitas Regional Medical Center for over 25 years. He is the director of Wellness Management Services, which provides workshops, presentations and programs to companies and schools to improve individual and organizational success. He is also the director of the hospital’s APA-accredited psychology internship program. He can be reached at rgoddard@trinitas.org or (908) 994-7334.

Prescription for Change

The Trinitas Emergency Department will double its size by the end of 2017.

By Caleb MacLean

Trinitas Regional Medical Center celebrated its 15th anniversary last month by unveiling plans to renovate and expand its Emergency Medicine Department. During the decade and a half since the merger of Elizabeth General and St. Elizabeth Hospital (which created TRMC), ER visits have been steadily increasing. The $18 million makeover will add 24,000 square feet of space and take place in three stages, to be completed some time in 2017.

“In 2013, we saw nearly 72,000 emergency department visits,” says Trinitas President and Chief Executive Officer Gary S. Horan. “With the expansion, we’ll be better able to continue to offer the highest level of patient care possible.”

Mercedittas “Mercy” Mallari, RN, MSN, Director of Nursing, Emergency Department, Gary S. Horan, FACHE, President and CEO, Maribeth Santillo, RN, MS, Senior Director, Emergency and Ambulatory Care, and John D’Angelo, DO, Chairman/Emergency Medicine, display the architectural rendering of the new Emergency Department expansion and renovation project that is expected to be completed in 2017.

 

The expanded Emergency Department, adds Horan, will offer patient care more rapidly and efficiently through new equipment that is positioned much closer to Emergency Department treatment areas.

“The expansion will include a new ultrasound room and a CT Suite for a 128-slice CT Scanner, which will reduce the need to transport patients to other testing areas.”

Besides doubling the number of treatment areas from the current 26 to a total of 52, the new facility will also provide an environment to reduce patient anxiety and offer a private area for families needing quiet time. The staff, meanwhile, will be trained to direct potentially disruptive patients to an area where they are less likely to distract doctors and other ER patients. A new lounge will also be created for First Responders from the various EMS squads that transport patients to the hospital.

Why the steady climb in emergency visits? According to Dr. John D’Angelo, Chairman of Emergency Medicine, many in the community do not have easy access to a primary-care physician. “They rely on Trinitas for treatment of the flu and urinary tract infections that might be more commonly treated in routine visits to a primary care physician,” he explains. “Also, with a population that is growing older, we see more cardiac and stroke cases due to age-related factors.”

Trinitas has successfully integrated advanced emergency lifesaving treatment methods into the emergency angioplasty treatment process, Dr. D’Angelo points out. “Our team effort uses a ’30-30-30’ rhythm. 30 minutes for EMS responders to reach the patient, perform an EKG, and get the patient to us.  30 minutes for the Emergency Team to receive, stabilize and transport the patient to the cath lab. Then, 30 minutes for the Catheterization Team to open the occluded artery.”

“Simply put,” he says, “every minute we save means a better outcome for patients.”

Trending Downward

Colon cancer rates drop as screenings increase.

By Christine Gibbs

This February marks the 15th anniversary of the start of Colon Cancer Awareness Month. President Bill Clinton made it official in the final year of his presidency and, in the ensuing decade-and-half, nationwide initiatives have gotten the word out on the importance of exercise, healthy eating and regular screenings for individuals 50 and over. That being said, there is a long way to go.

Colon cancer is often used synonymously with the larger group of cancers that is more accurately named colorectal cancer. Although both colon and rectal cancer affect the large intestine, they are distinguished by both location and function (colon cancer affects the higher portion and rectal the lower portion). Colorectal cancer ranks #2 in the U.S. as a cause of cancer deaths and #3 overall in terms of the number of cases diagnosed.

Despite its prevalence, the early symptoms of colon cancer still frequently go unnoticed. The good news is that it is among the most treatable (and preventable) cancers, so as awareness continues to grow, there is every reason to believe that the number of deaths will decrease…dramatically. Currently, these are the facts—as collected by the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • About 1 in 20 (or 5 percent) of all Americans will develop colorectal cancer.
  • 90% of new cases occur in individuals 50 years or older.
  • People with a close relative (parent, sibling or child) with colon cancer are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop it themselves.
  • Median age at diagnosis is 69.
  • While the number of cancer diagnoses in older adults has dropped since 1985, studies by the National Cancer Institute indicate that the rate for those under 50 has risen. Why? “More people over age 50 are getting colonoscopies, resulting in a higher number of pre-cancerous polyps being discovered in that population,” explained Andrea Zimmern, MD, Colorectal Surgeon at Trinitas Regional Medical Center.
  • It has been estimated that 60% of deaths could be prevented with screening.
  • The annual cost of colorectal cancer treatment recently in the US is $8.4 billion.

UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS

The news isn’t all bad. A recent study showed a decrease of 30 percent in cases (and also deaths) in adults 50 or over. This change is being attributed primarily to the increase in the number of colonoscopies per year. There are actually more than 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the US today. The American Cancer Society has outlined several major factors that impact dealing with Colon cancer:

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Genetics

Certain tests have been developed—including Oncotype Dx Colon Cancer Assay, ColoPrint, and ColDx—to examine the role of genetic influences in forming colon cancer tumors in order to identify individuals who have a higher risk that an existing cancer will spread. Other tests are available to identify a predisposition to such tumors. According to studies by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, about 5 to 10 percent of all colorectal cancers are caused by a genetic mutation that can be passed from parent to child. For those individuals with a strong family history, professional genetic counselors can be consulted to help assess the level of potential risk.

Staging

Staging describes how far the cancer has spread in the body. For colorectal cancer, the stage is identified by whether the cancer has grown into the intestinal wall or other nearby structures, or if it has spread to the lymph nodes or distant organs. The importance of staging is that it helps with prognosis and treatment options. The staging process involves a physical exam, biopsies, and imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans.

The daVinci Robotic Surgery System is used at Trinitas for a wide variety of procedures, including colon and rectal surgery.

Treatment

Surgical options are constantly being evaluated and improved. It is the early-stage cancer that is best addressed with surgery. Approximately 95% of Stage I and 65%-80%of Stage II are surgically curable, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. Laparoscopic and robotic surgeries are becoming more widely used than invasive traditional techniques.

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Chemotherapy involves administering specific drugs that have been shown to kill certain cancer cells. Delivery can be via injection, intravenously, or even in pill form. Unfortunately, the drugs not only can kill rapidly growing cancerous cells, but healthy cells as well, which can cause debilitating side effects. Targeted therapy involves newer drugs that attack the specific cancer with fewer side effects. These are typically administered to advanced cases and can be very expensive. Research is also being conducted on immunotherapy alternatives, which involve developing vaccines that can boost the patient’s own immune system to help fight the cancer. Radiation therapy is another option, although it is used much more often for rectal cancer, according to Dr. Zimmern.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SCREENING

In the majority of cases, colorectal cancer is eminently treatable in its early stages, and even preventable through regular screening. Since its symptoms can go undetected, prevention requires attention and action. Popular TV anchor and personality, Katy Couric—whose husband succumbed to Stage IV colon cancer—became a well known advocate for colonoscopy screening by allowing her own procedure to be televised in March of 2000.

Colon cancer begins as a small, easily removed polyp growing on the lining of the colon or large intestine. A colonoscopy is the surest way to detect such a growth in its very early pre-cancerous stages. For anyone who is squeamish about this relatively painless outpatient procedure, investigating the computerized virtual colonoscopy may be worthwhile, although Dr. Zimmern advises caution. “Regular colonoscopy is still the best and only option that is both diagnostic and therapeutic. If we see a polyp we can remove it on the spot.” On average, a screening colonoscopy will discover polyps in 25 to 50 percent of asymptomatic patients, according to The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons Textbook of Colon and Rectal Surgery. “This means that up to 50 percent of people who have a computerized virtual colonoscopy will need to go in for a regular colonoscopy afterwards,” Dr. Zimmern explains.

As with many cancers, lifestyle changes can also help to prevent colon cancer. It’s no surprise that increased risk factors include a diet of high-fat animal foods, being overweight, smoking, and inactivity. The secret to avoiding colon cancer is simple: stay healthy, stay informed…and get scoped!

Andrea S. Zimmern, MD, FACS

Colorectal Surgeon

908.994.8449

Ask Dr. D’Angelo

Emergencies can arise any time, day or night, any time of the year. By definition, you never know when you, a friend, relative or co-worker—or a complete stranger—will need emergency assistance…and if you will be the one who has to make the call. In 2015, the number of 911 calls made in the U.S. is likely to top a quarter-billion. The number of emergency calls has continued to rise as cell phones become more prevalent, which puts a lot of pressure on the 911 operators who field those calls—especially in a medical emergency. To make sure you get the help you need fast, the key is to remain calm and be precise. Dr. John D’Angelo, Chairman of TRMC’s Emergency Medicine Department, answers EDGE readers’ questions on emergency calls.

When should I call 911?

You should call 911 for any emergency situation, defined as an injury to a person, animal or property. The emergency situation should be called in while in progress. It’s important to place that call as quickly as possible as the emergency is happening. You should not wait to call 911 after an event has occurred. If someone is not breathing, unconscious, bleeding profusely, seizing or convulsing or experiencing some other life-threatening situation, make the call—even of you are in doubt.

What medical emergencies in adults are “time-sensitive” and should generate a 911 call?   

Let’s talk a little bit about “alarming symptoms.” If you or someone around you experiences chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness in an arm or leg, or a speech deficit, you should call 911. Heart attacks and strokes are especially time-sensitive disease entities. Heart attack and stroke patients who present early to the Emergency Department fare much better than those who come in after a long delay. Abdominal pain in the elderly is another time-sensitive disease. The longer such pain in the elderly goes undifferentiated, the greater the likelihood for a poor outcome.

How about children? When should I call 911 for them?

Alarming symptoms for children are generally respiratory in nature. Alarming signs observed by a parent or caretaker include a child with nasal flaring, grunting, retractions, and new or refractory wheezing. All warrant a call to 911. Ingestions of any possible harmful or toxic solutions or products are another reason to call 911.  In this situation, I recommend you also place a call to a poison control center. The New Jersey Poison Center number is 1–800–222–1222.

What should I bring to the ER?

In the case of a child who has swallowed something harmful, bring the container or a picture of the ingested agent with you to the emergency department. This is important because all caustics—such as household cleaners, presciption and over-the-counter medications—are not created equally. The poison center, as well as your emergency providers, need as much information as possible to adequately explore an effective antidote. Also, it is imperative to obtain as much information as possible from caregivers regarding the time of ingestion and quantity consumed.

Who answers my 911 call?

It really depends on your geographic location. When you call 911, your call will be fielded by either a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) or a Public Safety Dispatch Point (PSDP). The 911 call-taker will ask you, “What’s your emergency…?” They will then handle the call themselves or transfer you to the local Emergency Dispatch Center that can best manage the emergency. In New Jersey, most 911 calls are handled by the local municipalities.

What other questions should I be prepared to answer when I call 911?

Where is the emergency taking place? Who is involved in the emergency? When did the emergency occur? The key to answering these questions is to be concise. The Emergency Medical Dispatcher is listening for what service a caller needs. They will take the information you give them and connect you with the appropriate dispatch unit—Fire, Emergency Medical Services or Police.

What if the person calling 911 is not fluent in English?

Municipalities actually contract with multilingual vendors who can assist with any language.

Does it make a difference if I call 911 from a land line or my cell phone?

It could. A land line ensures rapid dispatch to your exact location. If you call from a cell phone, your call may be picked up by the closest tower, then rerouted or transferred to the local municipality capable of handling the call. If possible, use a land line.

Why do you have to “stay on the line” while waiting for help to arrive?

Emergency Medical Dispatchers will assist you with pre-arrival instructions. They may assist with CPR instructions, basic life support, or fire safety. They will also help you to remain calm until help arrives, or answer questions if the emergency situation suddenly changes.

COLOR ME READY

You never know if a child will be the person making the call in a 911 situation. The state of New Jersey’s Department of Human Services actually offers a coloring book with simple language and images

for children, showing them how to respond to emergencies.  You can download this helpful teaching tool at state.nj.us/911/kids/book/911book.pdf.

Do you have a hot topic for Dr. D’Angelo and his Trinitas ER team?

Submit your questions to AskDrD@edgemagonline.com

Editor’s Note: John D’Angelo, DO, is the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. He has been instrumental in introducing key emergency medical protocols at Trinitas, including the life-saving Code STemi, which significantly reduces the amount of time it takes for cardiac patients to move from the emergency setting to the cardiac catheterization lab for treatment.

 

What’s Up, Doc?

News, views and insights on maintaining a healthy edge.

Experimental Drug Looks Good vs. MRSA

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs that have hospitals and doctors gravely concerned, including MRSA, may have a new superhero in the form of the experimental drug, Staphefekt. In a recent trial conducted by the Dutch biotech company that makes it, five of six patients with the MRSA infection on their skin were cured. Staphefekt works differently than traditional antibiotics, which need to penetrate bacteria to be effective. Staphefekt latches onto the wall of the bacteria and releases an enzyme that eats a hole through the membrane to get inside. The hope is that bacteria won’t be able to adapt to this type of attack. “This is an exciting new concept in our fight against harmful bacteria,” observes William Farrer, MD, Chief of Infectious Disease at Trinitas. “However, I would stress that Staphefekt can be used only on superficial Staph skin infections such as acne and impetigo, not on more serious infections such as abscesses, pneumonia, or blood stream infections.

William Farrer, MD Chief of Infectious Disease 908.994.5455

” Hopefully, adds Dr. Farrer—who also serves as Associate Professor of Medicine at Seton Hall’s School of Health and Medical Science—the technology will be extended to other bacteria and for systemic use. Indeed, some scientists believe this type of antibiotic can be “trained” to kill only bad bacteria and not the beneficial bacteria in our bodies.

A Blunt Assessment of Marijuana

As state after state legalizes marijuana, the medical community is looking more closely at the effects of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, on human brains. It is well accepted that THC impacts short-term memory and that marijuana-using adolescents can experience long-term impact on the developing brain. A recent study conducted jointly by Northwestern and Harvard Universities showed that the concentration of THC in marijuana may be a key contributing factor. The researchers noted that currently available marijuana is three to four times more potent in terms of THC concentration than 20 years ago. College students who used marijuana four times a week underwent brain scans and all were found to have slight structural abnormalities of the nucleus accumbens—an area associated with pleasure and pain and, by extension, motivation. “This may explain the amotivational syndrome that has been described in earlier literature as a complication of marijuana use,” according to Anwar Y. Ghali, MD, MPA, Chairman of the

Anwar Y. Ghali, MD, MPA Chairman, Psychiatry 908.994.7454

Department of Psychiatry at Trinitas. “Also, studies have demonstrated that marijuana use accelerates the precipitation of schizophrenia in 40 percent of patients who developed that illness. In addition, studies also have shown that many of those who use marijuana go on to abuse other and more addictive substances.” One of the Harvard-Northwestern study co-authors commented, that if he were to design a substance that’s bad for college students, “it would be marijuana.”

Obesity and the Brain

More bad news about the effects of a poor diet—this from the November meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. New research findings presented during Neuroscience 2014 suggest disturbing connections between obesity and brain function. For example, exposure to a high-fat diet in the womb may alter a child’s brain “wiring” in ways that alter eating habits later in life. Another study suggests that being overweight is associated with shrinkage of a part of the brain involved in long-term memory of older adults. “We are aware there is an association between obesity and the brain, and how the food we eat plays a major role in our overall health and well being,” notes

Ari Eckman, MD
Chief of Endocrinology and Metabolism 908.994.5187

Dr. Ari Eckman, Chief, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism. “What is not clear is what the exact mechanism of that association is. Since none of these findings is conclusive, further research is needed to determine the impact of obesity on the brain, but this information presented at Neuroscience 2014 certainly sheds light on another possible danger of being obese.” One more bit of alarming research from the conference hinted that a high-fructose diet during adolescence could affect the brain’s response to stress and also exacerbate depressive behavior.

What Happens After?

Trinitas is primed to face the tsunami of mental health challenges created by COVID-19.

Long after we are clear of COVID-19, the fallout from the pandemic is likely to impact us for a lifetime. Exactly what the scope of those after-effects will be is difficult to say. However, healthcare systems are dealing with many of them now, including a dramatic uptick in mental health issues. It’s no surprise. Prior to the past year, tens of millions of people across the U.S. were already struggling with mood disorders, with only about half likely to seek professional treatment—a sobering assessment that comes from the National Institute of Mental Health. The deluge of negative news and emotional triggers (much of it delivered on the devices that were keeping us connected) has only made this situation worse.

There is a silver lining in this dark cloud.

Our obsessive connectivity has created greater awareness about what mood disorders are and knowing when and where to seek help. Thanks to expanded public education campaigns and a culture of sharing on social media, more people are willing to speak up and self-advocate when they realize their emotional state involves more than just these occasional experiences. Also, it appears that people have a better understanding that occasional bouts of sadness, anxiety and stress are normal, even healthy.

For more than five decades, Trinitas has filled that role, offering care and support for those suffering from mood disorders. Now, a comprehensive expansion—including a $5 million investment in its facilities and treatment programs—has made two new options available: esketamine and unilateral Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Along with the financial and material invest-ments, the introduction of these services complements an advanced, future-focused rethinking of how mood disorders are evaluated and treated.

Mood disorders, which distort an individual’s emotional state and can affect his or her ability to carry on a normal life, can include any impairment that leaves a person feeling unusually sad, depressed, or anxious. Manic conditions, in which a person’s mood quickly alternates between extreme depression and excessive happiness, also fall under this heading. At Trinitas, each patient’s care is tailored to his or her particular symptoms, history and lifestyle, according to Dr. James McCreath, Vice President of Behavioral Health. “Our approach to delivering treatment to our patients always centers on what’s most suitable for the individual,” he says. “Introducing new options this year allows us to further tailor our treatments.”

Redefining the Evidence Base

Part of the shifting treatment landscape for Behavioral Health stems from what Dr. Salvatore Savatta, Chair of Psychiatry at Trinitas, calls a “dramatic expansion” over the last 15 years in relevant research and the volume of information sources from which practitioners can draw:
“The ‘evidence base’ of ‘evidence-based medicine’ in psychiatry is profoundly deeper than it used to be. Twenty years ago, physicians typically treated patients in accordance with their own institutional preference, residency training, and personal experience. The available peer-reviewed evidence was extremely weak. Now, however, there is a relevant evidence base for almost every question a physician faces.”

Personalized treatment programs combine evidence-based psychotherapies with psychiatric medications; adding esketamine and unilateral ECT gives the team a fuller range of options. Esketamine, delivered as a nasal spray, is beneficial to patients with more challenging forms of depression. The unilateral ultra-brief pulse delivery of ECT now in use at Trinitas has been shown to be nearly as effective as the previous bi-lateral approach, and with far fewer side-effects. Both of these treatments can be considered when a patient fails to respond to more traditional antidepressants—promising brighter outcomes for patients at one of New Jersey’s largest hospital-based mood disorder programs.

Dr. Salvatore Savatta, Chair of Psychiatry at Trinitas, points out how important it is for people to consider all available options—including ECT—when undergoing treatment for severe mood disorders.

“There are many misconceptions about how today’s ECT affects the mind, even what this treatment looks like,” he says. “People base it on what they’ve heard or seen on TV and in the movies. And even those depictions of old-fashioned ECT treatments were largely inaccurate. We need to remove the stigma surrounding this treatment so more people can feel comfortable seeking out and receiving the help they need.”

In addition to improved methods for delivering ECT, the field of behavioral health has seen seismic changes in the way patients are evaluated and treated. According to Dr. McCreath, who brings 45 years of experience to his role, psychotherapy treatments have improved dramatically in both the number of options available and the effectiveness of those options. He also points out that, as a society, we’ve become more comfortable talking about mental illness— a key point in expanding access to treatment.

Quicker, Stronger

Esketamine is a more potent and faster-acting form of ketamine, which is most often used as a surgical anesthetic and has been around for 50 years. Esketamine has an immediate effect on treatment-resistant depression and also appears to reduce suicide ideation. Delivering the drug in a nasal spray means it is absorbed by a different receptor than pills are—providing a much faster route to the brain, where it targets multiple brain connections at once.

“People struggling with mental illness—be it major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, generalized anxiety, or any other disorder—now see it as acceptable, and are encouraged to talk about what they’re experiencing and to seek professional help earlier in their journey,” he says. “There’s a greater willingness to get treatment and they find larger, more impactful support networks among their friends and loved ones.”

McCreath also cites a greater emphasis in recent years on short-term treatment versus long-term hospitalization, along with a societal recognition that having a mental illness isn’t an impediment to enjoying a productive life.

The Trinitas Department of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry provides treatment to patients of all ages, as well as family services. The center offers a 98-bed inpatient facility and a specialized unit for adults with mental or developmental disabilities. Prior to the pandemic, Trinitas logged more than 15,000 outpatient visits a month. The team of practitioners includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, substance abuse counselors, creative arts therapists and many others. Specialized services include parenting groups, women’s services, geropsychiatry, an adolescent residential program, and programs for individuals with HIV. Survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse can also receive specialized care, as can juvenile offenders or persons requiring justice-involved services.

“People who come to Trinitas for behavioral health treatment will find a vibrant, young, and experienced team of forward-thinking providers who have all of today’s treatment options at the ready,” Dr. Savatta says. “We strive to show compassion at all times to our patients, and to their families.”

Considered individually, psychotherapies, medications, and technological advancements in fields like ECT offer promise to the millions across the country suffering from mental illness. The holistic approach in practice at Trinitas—in combination with the team’s skill, experience and humanity—provides relief and hope that no technology in itself can offer. Whatever the post-COVID landscape looks like, the Department of Behavioral Health and Psychiatry will be ready to respond.

Editor’s Note: For more information on behavioral health services at Trinitas, call (908) 994-7556.

All That Jasmine

Trinitas welcomes a familiar face to the nursing staff.

Barack Obama famously said that he was just starting to figure out who he was sometime in the 10th grade. Jasmine Jones has the 44th president beaten by two years. As an 8th grader, Jones decided to take the first step on a path that would lead her to the highest levels of the healthcare field when she devoted a good chunk of her summer to volunteering at Trinitas. In 2020, Jasmine Jones returned as a nurse in the hospital’s Emergency Department—at a time of profoundly critical need.  It was a homecoming in more ways than one; the connection to Trinitas has been a near constant in her life.

During her high school years at Union County Vo-Tech’s Allied Health School, Jones took part in a Medical Mentoring program and Nursing Camp at Trinitas, laying the foundation of skills and academics on which she built her professional plans. Her undergraduate studies at Drexel University—funded partly by a scholarship from Trinitas—propelled her ever forward and enhanced her passion for the business of healthcare. 

As an Emergency Department nurse at Trinitas, Jones enters the field at a time unlike any we’ve seen before, when a global pandemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and placed healthcare workers at considerable risk. Yet like those who have come before her, she puts the lives of her patients first as she follows the path she began carving out almost a decade ago. 

“The calling is greater than me as an individual,” she explains. “Nurses are like firefighters—we run toward a fire. There are so many incredible nurses here at Trinitas, and I’m just hoping to be half as good as them.” 

While finishing her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing at Drexel (she graduated in June, with a minor in Journalism), Jones worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant. She applied to Trinitas after graduation, received a job offer in August, and joined the Emergency Nurse Residency Program on September 14. As an 8th grader, she recalls, her time spent volunteering at “7 South” in Telemetry sparked this dream. Jones found further inspiration in her parents, both of whom worked in healthcare-related industries: her mother in insurance, her father in pharmaceuticals. 

“The experience I gained at Trinitas was invaluable,” Jones says. “I helped make patients’ beds and performed tasks like bringing them water to make sure they were comfortable. It was eye-opening for me at that young age, and it cemented my belief that I had found my calling.” 

One patient in particular stands out during that experience—a woman who spoke little English, and with whom Jones could communicate in basic Spanish.  

“She called me enfermera, which is Spanish for ‘nurse,’ and I tried to explain that I was just una voluntaria,’” she says. “She kept calling me ‘nurse’ anyway, because she saw compassion in me–something that is so core to nursing, but also something you can’t teach. She was what truly inspired me to pursue a nursing career.”  

Jones’s undergraduate experience at Drexel was also a game-changer. 

“For a goal-oriented person like me, I knew Drexel would set me up for success and provide some amazing opportunities,” she says. “For example, I had the chance to study abroad in Australia and learn about how another country carries out its healthcare system.”

That experience planted another seed for Jasmine Jones: the possibility of one day putting her journalism skills to use by traveling the world, tracking her experiences in a memoir, and using her expertise to impact healthcare policy. At the moment, as one of Trinitas’s promising new Emergency Department RNs, she’ll remain close to home and family. Her own, as well as the Trinitas family…which she’s been a part of now going on ten years. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

The World Health Organization proclaimed 2020 “Year of the Nurse and Midwife.” Little did they know! There are about four million registered nurses in the U.S., with more than half over the age of 50. Male RN’s make up between 9 and 10% of the nursing population. About 18% of nurses hold a graduate-level degree (an MSN, for example). More than half of U.S. nurses work in hospitals.

Life in the Fast Lane

With each 9-1-1 call, two award-winning Trinitas teams spring into action.

Terror. Pain. Confusion. A swirl of sounds and people. The fear that this might be a one-way trip. This is the part of a cardiac emergency you don’t see on TV medical dramas. Yet it is in these first moments when help arrives that difference-making action begins. The target window of time during which an individual in this situation needs to receive emergency care is 90 minutes—so says the American Heart Association. Which is why the right call is a 9-1-1 call. Indeed, according to Gerard “Rod” Muench, Trinitas Regional Medical Center Administrative Director of the Emergency and Emergency Medical Services Departments, a good chunk of that critical window can be wasted by driving that individual to the hospital in a personal vehicle. Dialing 9-1-1 initiates a System of Care that makes the most of those precious minutes.

Trinitas has been the recipient of Mission: Lifeline awards from the American Heart Association in each of the last four years. The departments receiving this honor are under the director- ship of Muench and Kathleen Azzarello, head of Cardiovascular Services—two professionals who excel at administering critical emergency-treatment response. Muench’s team is focused on saving the lives of severely distressed cardiac (and other) patients by streamlining the trip of EMS personnel from point of contact to the Emergency Department at Trinitas. Azzarello’s team, which includes the cardiac catheterization lab, is at the receiving end when the ambulance arrives with patients in cardiac distress.

Muench and his team deliver approximately 1,000 patients each year to Azzarello and her staff. On average, their coordinated care probably saves 50 patients a year—about one a week—whose extreme coronary distress would have resulted in death under almost any other scenario.

The Three C’s

The common goal of emergency System of Care protocols can be defined by three important C’s: Cooperation, Collaboration and Communication. The goal of the EMS team is to administer treatment at the very first moment that the EMTs make contact with the patient. Trinitas pre-hospital personnel is trained in procedures such as administering CPR, providing medication, inserting an IV, and transmitting an EKG to the hospital prior to the patient’s arrival. Once delivered to the Emergency Department, no time is wasted in turning over those in need of immediate cardiac care to the Cardiovascular Services Department.

The overall success of response to cardiac emergencies starts with expediting what used to be called “door-to-needle” time. The clock starts ticking at the point of first medical contact—in the home, in the car, at work, or on the phone with a 911 dispatcher—and doesn’t stop until a patient is transported by an emergency vehicle to the catheterization lab or cardiovascular department, where life-saving treatment can be initiated before time runs out. At Trinitas, first contact typically goes through the hospital’s Mobile Intensive Care Unit. The MICU operates in coordination with the Elizabeth Fire Department, which initiates on-site stabilization and treatment.

Everyone trained and supervised by Rod Muench appreciates that every minute matters when it comes to coronary patient outcomes, making the MICU an “Emergency Dept. on wheels.” He has been at Trinitas for 11 years, previously served as ED/EMS Administrator, and is often described as a paramedic educator. He has developed and implemented a thorough regimen for the hospital’s staff of EMTs, including a first-contact philosophy.

“Learning how to communicate with the patient is key,” Muench explains. “Good people skills are essential to a good emergency medical technician.”

The need to combine empathy with speed and accuracy is echoed by Kathleen Azzarello and her team, which deals with extreme pressure situations on a round-the-clock basis. In assembling that team, she looks for individuals who are “a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” adding that they need to stay calm under fire and also appreciate the ultimate rewards of being a critical caregiver. What is her reward?

“It’s an amazing privilege to watch a cardiac patient go from near death upon arrival to wanting to leave the hospital as soon as treatment has been administered.”

Needless to say, COVID-19 has complicated the work of everyone involved in emergency care. It has also created a growing number of post-COVID coronary infections, a story that was under-reported in 2020. Given the added stress of the pandemic, Azzarello and Muench are understandably proud of the Mission: Lifeline recognition their teams received in 2020—the Gold Plus award to the ED/EMS departments and the Gold Mission: Lifeline for ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) Receiving Department. Neither, however, is quick to take personal credit.

STEMI

According to the CDC, even in the pandemic year of 2020, heart disease was the number-one cause of death in the United States. A quarter-million people fall victim to the most fatal type of heart attack—ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction, or STEMI—which blocks blood flow to the heart. These extreme cases are prime examples of the difference that a 9-1-1 call to Trinitas can make.

“I am only doing so well,” Muench points out, “because my staff at Trinitas is a unique breed of highly skilled and motivated people who make my job easier.”

“I am supported by a staff of passionate, humble and unspoiled individuals from diverse backgrounds,” adds Azzarello. “We have become a family that is willing to walk that extra mile to help a patient in need.”

Zak Williams

On October 27th, mental health advocate  Zak Williams shares the virtual stage with Jack Ford at the Trinitas Health Foundation’s Peace of Mind Event. The son of actor and comedian Robin Williams, Zak has focused his entrepreneurial skills on mental health advocacy. He will be sharing his personal story to address the challenges and stigma associated with mental health issues. He is the former Chief Operating Officer of Crossing Minds and Director of Business Development for Condé Nast, and a graduate of Columbia Business School.     

EDGE: How would you characterize your approach to mental health advocacy? 

ZW: My approach is primarily systems-based— how we think about making a difference across a collection of avenues to ultimately provide a better, more comprehensive approach for individuals and communities. 

EDGE: Is that more dependent on top-down or bottom-up strategies as a catalyst for good things to happen? 

ZW: It involves taking both a bottom-up and top- down approach. It requires grassroots initiatives—people understanding the needs of people—as well  as top-down policy considerations, organizational considerations and considerations in the private sector. Also cultural considerations, which involve both bottom-up and top-down strategies.  

EDGE: What does a systems-based approach to advocacy in this space look like? 

ZW: I break things down into five categories where change can happen: Programming, which involves development of curricula and potential applications; Experience, which involves mental health awareness and campaigns focused on, for example, reducing stigma; Research, which is done by institutions nationally and abroad; Advocacy, involving strategic thinking and how organizations and different constituents communicate and coordinate around making change; and then there’s Policy, which occurs mainly in the public sector and includes educating policymakers to make pragmatic and thoughtful decisions about crafting policy that ultimately impact their constituents for the best. 

EDGE: I hear the entrepreneur in you talking. What strengths do you bring from that realm to this one? 

ZW: My role as an advocate bleeds into what I do in the private sector. In terms of how I operate as a business executive, as I said I’m very much a systems-based advocate. I rely upon metrics and data to make decisions. But for me it’s very much about establishing belief systems that impact society, culture and people for the better. You can take an advocacy approach whether you’re in the private sector or the not-for-profit world. It’s just a particular style of management and organization and leadership

EDGE: When you speak at events like the one for Trinitas, is it similar to giving a presentation in front of a group of potential investors? 

ZW: It’s exactly like giving a presentation in front of  a group of investors. The key thing is tying storytelling to impact and data. If you can tell a story with the numbers, it’s extremely compelling because, at the  end of the day, the human element of mental health support and advocacy is absolutely  critical. The numbers element helps tell a story at scale. So tying the  two together is critical for sustained investment into  the category.   

EDGE: Because of its proximity to both urban and suburban populations, Trinitas extends its mental health service to a very wide and diverse audience. Is that type of “parity” the focus of most advocacy organizations? 

ZW: Yes it is, especially on a policy basis. From a technical standpoint, it can be boiled down to something pretty straightforward, which is providing a foundation for mandating that insurers provide equal coverage around mental health programs. That is extremely important when it comes to providing quality of care. So organizations that take a leadership role within the space of mental health parity are on the vanguard of what mental health support will look like. 

EDGE: And what will it look like? 

ZW: Expanded services and high-quality care for all constituencies that need it. We’re getting there. Slowly. The California state legislature recently passed a mental health parity law that ultimately mandates that insurers take an egalitarian approach to providing services. People deserve high-quality care across the board, regardless of whether they come from means or they don’t. The more we can think about how to implement that on a systems level, the more people will have access to preventative care, just as they have access to chronic and crisis-oriented care. 

EDGE: What role do you think technology will play in moving this forward

ZW: I’m taking Dr. Ronald Kessler’s lens here in  terms of how he talks about technology. He’s an epidemiologist and policy expert at Harvard Medical School. He says there are “tech extenders” and “people extenders.” Tech extenders are telehealth platforms that enable care to be extended to places that might not have in-person, offline resources that would enable people to have the quality of care that they need. People extenders would include providing behavioral coaching services and additional social services, whatever they may be, training people to create higher-quality coverage in areas and regions that might not have, say, the level of psychiatrists needed across an entire population. So that might look like behavioral coaches or students or residents that can provide preventative-level care before it becomes a chronic or crisis issue requiring psychiatric interventions. You want to match people to the level of care that’s needed.  

Prepare for Takeoff  

In 2020, Zak Williams launched a new company, PYM Health. PYM stands for Prepare Your Mind. According to Williams,  it is focused on “providing lightweight to middleweight solutions for stress and anxiety,” he says. “Our first product is a chew that contains primarily natural amino acid compounds that provide stress/anxiety support.”   

Original Mood Chews are available online through the company’s website and other ecommerce channels. “Ultimately, we hope to be available in stores throughout the nation,” Williams says.

EDGE: What other goals do you have in the area of mental health advocacy? 

ZW: The privilege of being able to do the work I do is something that I hope other people will explore. Within the communities that I’m a part of, we hope to empower others to advocate for causes associated with mental health. Ultimately, I hope to support people along their journey and create more communities of advocates that will create change on a systems level. The fact that we’re able to have this conversation, I’m very grateful.  

EDGE: Going from “son of…” to “father of…” status is a turning point for a lot of people, whether your dad is a celebrity, as yours was, or not. In what ways has fatherhood changed your perspective?  

ZW: When it comes to raising my son, to parenting, it’s caused me to prioritize empathy and openness and understanding. It has certainly changed my perspective in how I think about mental health advocacy and advocating for change. My son is 15 months old. He doesn’t think about mental health, but I am very heartened by how young people think about mental health and the stigma associated with it. I’m 37, which I guess makes me a late-stage Millennial. Generations younger than myself tend to have an openness and orientation toward thinking about mental health as being essential to a balanced and healthy lifestyle. I want to take the long view here, that future generations have an opportunity to remove the stigma and biases associated with mental health and ultimately create a more tolerant society and world. 

Photo courtesy of Zak Williams

Zak is on the board of Bring Change to Mind (bringchange2mind.org), a nonprofit founded by Glenn Close, that works to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. He’s an advisor for Inseparable (inseparable.us), a national organization focused on creating pragmatic mental health policy.

 

Have You Heard

Trinitas helps get Tony Testa back on his feet. 

By Erik Slagle 

Tony Testa’s life has always been about giving it his all for the fans. As the original guitarist for the beloved doo-wop group The Duprees—and now their leader and frontman—Testa’s charisma and give-and-take with the audience make every show dynamic and unforgettable. The band  formed in the early 1960s in Jersey City and shot to fame with hits like “You Belong to Me,” “It’s No Sin” and the classic “Have You Heard.”  

Extensive touring and physical wear and tear on Testa over the years resulted in a hip condition that took him off his feet earlier this year. A born performer, Testa knew he couldn’t take chances with anything other than the best care and technology when it came to receiving an artificial hip—a critical joint for someone who needs to command the stage for a living. After researching hip replacement procedures, Testa decided to seek out a facility that uses the Hana Orthopedic Table (right) in its OR. The Hana Table has transformed how hip replacement surgeries are carried out: patient positioning via the table means the surgery can be minimally invasive, less painful, and with much faster recovery time. It all adds up to a vastly improved experience compared to hip replacements of even the recent past.  A friend who had recently undergone surgery of his own recommended that Testa—who lives in Jackson Township—look into the work being done at Trinitas, which uses the Hana Table in its OR.  After speaking to another friend, Nadine Brechner,  Chief Development Officer and Vice President of the Trinitas Health Foundation, Testa chose Trinitas even though Elizabeth is 50-plus miles north of his home. 

“I’ve known Nadine Brechner for some time now, and she told me about the facilities and staff there who could perform my hip replacement,” Testa says. “I made the decision that Trinitas, even though it was a little far, would be the best place to have this surgery.” 

Then, however, came COVID-19. The pandemic caused many to rethink the decision to undergo elective surgeries. Testa, though, says he never seriously considered postponing his operation: “I was reasonably sure it would be safe. Hospitals are always ensuring of a healthy and clean environment, and given the crisis, I was especially confident every precaution would be taken.”  

For Testa, who like other entertainers had his touring schedule postponed, the timing was ideal, as he would have plenty of time to recover and recuperate. Live concerts for The Duprees—and special events like Holland America’s Malt Shop Cruise, which features the group in its all-star lineup—are set to resume sometime in 2021.  

The effort to get Testa back into the spotlight co-starred orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Ghobrial, anesthesiologist (and Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology) Dr. Leon Pirak and the Trinitas nursing team—all of whom Testa describes as “nothing short of incredible

As New Jersey flattened its curve and hospitalizations began slowing in the spring, Testa’s procedure was carried out as planned. In fact, with extra safety measures and disinfection procedures in place, hospitals soon became some of the safest places to be in terms of potential COVID-19 exposure. Trinitas, of course, was no exception. 

The Duprees

“The whole staff was extremely attentive to health and safety protocols,” Testa says. “They made sure everyone had masks, were always taking people’s temperatures  and wiping everything down. As a patient, I never felt unsafe or like corners were being cut. Dr. Ghobrial was terrific. Dr. Pirak? Top-notch. And the nurses, I can’t say enough about them. I would recommend Trinitas to everyone. I had the surgery on a Tuesday and was out of the hospital by Thursday morning. I was walking again almost immediately

According to Testa, he could have been back on stage by September. Whenever that happens, for fans of the Duprees, it won’t be a moment too soon.

A Shot in the Arm

When New Jersey desperately needed more nurses,  Trinitas grads answered the call…in record numbers.

By Erik Slagle 

Unprecedented. Among the myriad adjectives we’ll be using to capture the magnitude of 2020 in the years to come, unprecedented might not be as vivid as devastating or frightening or horrifying, but it captures the positive along with the negative—and that makes it a word we should embrace. For instance, the dedication and courage of healthcare professionals in the face of a tsunami of unknowns brought about by COVID-19 was truly unprecedented, although hardly surprising. At Trinitas and other hospitals around the state, workers put their lives on the line every day because, well, that’s what they do, isn’t it? 

Also unprecedented in 2020 was the surge in interest among young New Jerseyans in entering the healthcare field—specifically nursing—at a time when there was no small amount of risk accompanying that decision.  

The 2020 graduating class of the Trinitas School of Nursing was the largest ever, with nearly 190 graduates immediately entering the workforce when their communities needed them most—a new generation of frontline heroes joined the fight against the pandemic.  

“COVID-19 actually affirmed, for me, that I made the right decision in starting a nursing career,” says Patience Opaola, who graduated from the School of Nursing in January and now works at Trinitas as a registered nurse (RN). After graduating from Linden High School in 2016, she started her RN education at 18, unsure of where she should go next in life. Opaola admits it wasn’t an easy adjustment moving later from the classroom to the front lines, but says she was met with a great deal of support. 

“I wanted to quit so many times,” she says of her early days on the Medical-Surgical floor. “But I’m glad I saw it through. You learn how to ask for help…everyone’s ready to lend a hand.” 

“These nurses and students are amazing individuals who want to work with patients that are very, very sick,” says Dr. Roseminda Santee, Dean of the Trinitas School of Nursing. “Our students want to serve their communities and take on the challenge of the COVID-19 battle.” 

Between January and May, a record 188 graduates earned their credentials at Trinitas, and Dr. Santee says that, during the worst months of the pandemic, the school continued to see extraordinarily high numbers of applicants. Most were new to the healthcare field, while some were Certified Nurse Aides or Licensed Practical Nurses, completing their education to become RNs. The cohort overall was a diverse mix of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and included a number of male candidates, as well—more so than usual, according to Dr. Santee. 

The coronavirus outbreak, of course, forced the physical closure of schools at all levels, and the School of Nursing had to quickly pivot toward online instruction. Faculty and students alike stepped up and made the transition a smooth one. Looking ahead toward 2021, challenges are likely to continue until an effective vaccine is made widely available, as social-distancing measures limit the number of seats permitted in each class. However, says Dr. Santee, the school is up to the task. 

“I wish I could take every single one of our applicants,” she says, noting that some will have to be waitlisted. “It’s a balancing act, meeting the New Jersey Board of Nursing demand for more licensed nurses while adhering to state-mandated health protocols in our classrooms. We also have to bear in mind the guidelines required by the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.” 

The school’s ability to master that balancing act helped garner its fourth designation as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League for Nursing—one of only 17 institutions across the country to receive the recognition for another four years. The relationship between Trinitas and Union County College is a key to the School of Nursing’s ongoing success. 

“Trinitas has been such an open and helpful partner,” she adds. “It’s a collaborative effort between the hospital and college to ensure we’re meeting the standards of nursing education and graduating enough nurses to meet the hiring needs of our healthcare facilities.” 

To help meet demand, the New Jersey Board of Nursing has approved “temp” new graduate nurse hiring, meaning candidates receive temporary work permits while waiting to take the licensing examination. These exams were also impacted by COVID-19 because of the social-distancing requirement for examinees. 

For more than a decade, the Trinitas School of Nursing has enjoyed a reputation for rigorous curricula, an outstanding teaching staff, and an admissions policy ensuring that only the best students—representative  of the community served by the school—are admitted as future healthcare professionals. Based on recent applicants, enrollees and graduates, the school will maintain its status as one of New Jersey’s top destinations for students looking to lead the fight for our nation’s health for years to come. 

“Getting into the hospital after finishing school may be a bit of a shock,” says Opaola, reflecting on her advice to others thinking of following her path. “You might feel small in the beginning, but you’ll have a lot of support. And that support starts with your faculty and classmates at the School of Nursing.” 

DID YOU KNOW? 

The World Health Organization  Designated 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife in honor of the 200th “birthday” of Florence Nightingale.

Staying Centered

Role of Ambulatory Surgery becomes more vital as Covid-19 subsides

By Yolanda Navarra Fleming

The numbers are tricky to pin down as Covid-19 cases rise and fall from coast to coast, but it appears that at least a third of Americans put off needed healthcare in the first four months of the pandemic. That figure covers everything from scheduled tests and screenings to minor procedures to actual emergency room visits. Caution is never a bad thing, but fear—especially fear fueled by a lack of accurate information (or sometimes way too much of it)—can exert a powerful influence on our decision-making. Often to our own detriment.

As Trinitas worked to stay a step ahead of the coronavirus this past spring and deliver a high level of healthcare to those who needed to be admitted, another part of the hospital—the Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC)—was closed and waiting to safely reopen, and is now firing on all cylinders. “Ambulatory” in the case of the ASC reflects its Latin root (abulatore: to walk).  The ASC is an outpatient facility that allows our clients to have same-day procedures. Although there is always some risk in any type of surgery, the layer-upon-layer of Covid-19 precautions that have been adopted, as Trinitas doctors learn more about the virus, has minimized the risk of contracting and spreading the virus in the main hospital as well.

“Our Ambulatory Surgery Center provides an optimal environment for our patients and their families, as we do not treat Covid-19 patients in this facility,” says Donna Leonard, Peri-Operative Managing Director. “The atmosphere there is warm, calm, and peaceful. The ASC staff is professional, knowledgeable, and empathetic, in addition, our equipment is state-of-the-art. An important consideration when choosing an ASC site is knowing that we are a hospital-based facility, and all of the resources of Trinitas Regional Medical Center are at our disposal at any time, for any reason.”

The doctors, nurses, and technicians at the Ambulatory Surgery Center are skilled and experienced in a wide range of specialties and outpatient procedures. The ASC Operating Room handles:

  • General Surgery
  • Laparoscopic Surgery
  • Vascular Surgery
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Gynecological Surgery
  • Ear/Nose/Throat Surgery
  • Pain Management
  • Orthopedic Surgery

More complex procedures are performed in the Main Operating Room at Trinitas, where the same rigorous cleaning and sanitizing procedures take place.  These procedures include all of the above in addition to the following:

  • Robotic Surgery
  • Total Joint Replacement Surgery
  • Genito-Urinary Surgery
  • Ophthalmic Surgery
  • Complex ENT Surgeries

Both OR areas are staffed by Board Certified Anesthesiologists, all nursing personnel are certified in Basic Life Support (BLS), they also have or are working towards becoming Advanced Cardio Life Support (ACLS) certified. Many Trinitas RNs are bi-lingual and multi-lingual. Most Registered Nurses have their Bachelor’s degree or are currently in a program working towards obtaining a BSN. We have several RN’s with BSN’s who are now Master’s degree holders in Nursing, and several more currently pursuing this highly regarded professional degree.

The $5.2 million 9,500 square-foot Ambulatory Surgery Center opened in 2014. Since then, more than 10,000 patients have been treated there.

“It’s only natural to have a little fear where medical care is concerned, especially given the current environment,” says Leonard. “The medical community has expressed concern that necessary testing and procedures have been delayed due to the fear of being exposed to the virus if they choose to come to the hospital. The ASC center has taken and continually updates all precautions to keep our patients and staff safe. We confidently state that we are offering a safe environment for the return of patients to our facility.”

Editor’s Note: The Thomas and Yoshiko Hackett Ambulatory Surgery Center at Trinitas is part of the hospital’s main campus at 225 Williamson Street in Elizabeth. For more information, visit njambulatorysurgery.com.

Answering the Call

When Covid-19 hit, Trinitas hit back…with a true team effort.

By Yolanda Navarra Fleming

You don’t have to be in healthcare to comprehend the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gary S. Horan, President & CEO of Trinitas Regional Medical Center, says it’s been unlike anything he has experienced in his many years in healthcare administration. As he details, Trinitas staff members met the challenges of the patient surge in the spirit of skill, compassion, and innovative teamwork.

EDGE:  How has Trinitas Regional Medical Center adapted to the “new normal” conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic?

GH: It was a challenge we didn’t expect but were prepared for, partly because Trinitas is no stranger to innovation. Innovation is the key in responding to something as novel as the COVID-19 pandemic.  We had to get creative about a lot of things, including making additional space for COVID patients during the surge. We have taken every precaution to keep our population safe, including patients, staff members, and the outside community.

EDGE: How did the staff handle the surge?

GH: Well, prior to the surge, we activated our Emergency Command Center, which is staffed by senior administration, safety personnel, and infection-prevention personnel.  Meetings and institution-wide conference calls were held every day to address the many issues that we knew were coming up. It was and still is a very volatile time, but saving lives is our business. We have such a dedicated, well-rounded, and fearless staff, who are not focusing on the negatives. But they needed help. As part of the Heroes Helping Heroes initiative, we were fortunate enough to have 20 registered nurses from Centura Health in Colorado come to Trinitas to assist in our efforts. They were extremely helpful in our Emergency Department and the Medical/Surgical units for more than four weeks.

EDGE: With a decline in the number of cases, do you expect another surge?

GH: There is certainly the possibility of another surge, but it drastically depends on how people behave in the upcoming weeks, and whether or not they observe the safety precautions. If people choose not to wear masks, use proper hand hygiene, follow the guidelines of social distancing, and avoid crowds, I’d say another surge is likely. If it comes to that, we are prepared and will do our best to carry out the Trinitas mission, just as we did the first time around.

EDGE: In the meantime, what do you say to people who may be staying away from the hospital because they’re afraid to return?

GH: The fear is understandable, but unwarranted. We use advanced technology as part of many steps to disinfect the entire hospital.  We were an early user of the Surfacide Disinfection UV-C system. This technology uses ultraviolet light to sterilize surfaces after they’ve already been wiped down with bleach. We’re asking our community to not neglect their health by putting off elective procedures and diagnostic testing because they think it might be unsafe to come to the hospital. It’s actually one of the safest places to be at the moment because of this technology and our attention to the matter.

EDGE:  How has the pandemic affected your organization as a whole? Is there such a thing as a “silver lining” in this environment?

GH: I think so. The fact that Trinitas is a Catholic teaching hospital means that we possess a strong sense of faith as an institution. In spite of the challenges we’re facing, we are grateful for the ways we had to rise to the occasion. So, I would say a silver lining is seeing a great team spirit to fight and win against this pandemic.

 

What’s Up, Doc?

News, views and insights on maintaining a healthy edge.

Be Kind to Your Roomba       

One day, perhaps sooner than you think, robots will be playing important roles in our everyday lives. In anticipation of that day, researchers at Japan’s Toyohashi University of Technology initiated a study of how we are likely to interact with humanoid robots. What they found for the first time is neurophysiological evidence that humans are capable of empathizing with robots. When the study group watched humans and robots experiencing pain, they empathized with both in similar ways…only not as deeply with the robots. Researchers accounted for the difference by speculating that humans are unable to see things from a robot’s perspective. The study will help develop human-friendly robots for which we’ll feel more sympathy and be more comfortable with. Rodger Goddard, PhD, Chief Psychologist and Director of Wellness Services at Trinitas

Rodger Goddard, PhD
Chief Psychologist, Trinitas Regional Medical Center Director of Wellness Management Services 908.994.7334

, is not surprised that people feel concern and care for robots. “Many of us already have a personal relationship to our cars, computers and other precious possessions,” he says. “We feel the pain when our car gets dented, bruised, or is in an accident. Our children are comforted by, and connected to, their teddy bears, toys and action figures. And movies already show us how we can sympathize with the feelings of an R2D2 robot.” Besides, such connections are hardwired in the human psyche, Dr. Goddard explains. Primitive people have always ascribed human emotion and intelligence to the things in their surrounding world.  We now talk to Siri, OK Google, Amazon Echo and our car’s GPS—proof that our gadgets are very responsive to our questions and needs. Meanwhile, Facebook sharing has already replaced much of what would have been face-to-face interactions. “People who lived 50 to 100 years ago would not have been able to imagine the technologically connected world we live in today,” he continues. ““We also cannot imagine how our world will look—and how much more we will be connected to our machines—50 to 100 years from now.”

An 80% Jump in Autism Rates? 

If you look only at the recently released statistics from the CDC and National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), you’d think that a tidal wave of autism hit the United States in 2014. Indeed, the prevalence of autism in children 3–17 jumped 80 percent in one year. The story behind the numbers? According to epidemiologist Benjamin Zablotsky of the NCHS, in previous years many parents of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder reported it as a developmental disability instead of (or in addition to) autism because “developmental disability” was listed first. The 2014 questionnaire flipped the two categories. The silver lining of this story, of course, is that more children will receive help earlier. And the earlier they have access to care, services and treatment, the more likely they are to progress.

Carole Soricelli, MS, OTR
Director, Trinitas Children’s Therapy Services
973.218.6394

Carole Soricelli, Director of Trinitas Children’s Therapy Services (TCTS) in Springfield, can attest to that. “Our occupational, physical and speech-language therapists work with many children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in schools and in our Therapy Center,” she says. “In recent years, more and more self-contained classrooms accommodate the many individualized needs of the ASD population by providing smaller adult-to-student ratios, classroom environments that facilitate optimal learning for students that have a variety of sensory processing considerations, and related services support. Most curriculums have moved toward a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people, based on scientific insights into how humans learn. The result is a learning environment characterized by flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that empower educators to meet the varied needs of all students.”

Happy Results from SAD Study     

A recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry has cast a shadow on the long-held belief that the best way to fight the winter blues is with light. Light therapy used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has proved to be effective, especially in acute cases. However, a new type of cognitive behavioral therapy designed for SAD sufferers was found in the study to be significantly better when it came to preventing relapses. Forty-six percent of subjects receiving light therapy experienced a recurrence of depression two winters later as compared to 27 percent who received the cognitive behavioral therapy. The depressive symptoms were also more severe in the light therapy group. About 14 million Americans suffer from SAD. 

Walk This Way

Older adults who make an effort to exercise daily stand an excellent chance of delaying cognitive decline and prolonging their independence. A study at Boston University, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, compared a group of young adults and older adults who engaged in rigorous physical activity and then took memory, planning and problem-solving tests. The study found that members of the older group (ages 55–82) who took  more steps (and more vigorous steps) performed better on these tests—particularly one that involved recalling which name went with a person’s face. This result is exciting because it suggests that physical activity will extend long-term memory, which is the type of memory that is negatively impacted by aging.

Jim Dunleavy, PT DPT MS
Director, Rehabilitation Services
908.994.5406

Jim Dunleavy, PT DPT MS, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Director, Rehabilitation Services, notes that, “while rigorous activity is the level cited in this study, we have seen improvement in patients even with sub-maximal exercise/activity. If a person is sedentary, just starting a walking program can make big changes in physical and mental wellbeing.” 

Can You Hear Me Now? 

Can hearing loss make you dumber? No, not exactly. However, people with a hearing impairment who choose not to wear a hearing aid, may be devoting way too much of their cognitive resources in order to figure out what others are saying. A report issued by the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) maintains that untreated hearing loss can lead to serious emotional and social issues, reduced job performance and a diminished quality of life. And also interfere with cognitive abilities. This is particularly important for the 10 million Americans between the ages of 46 and 64 suffering from hearing loss—80 percent of whom do not use a hearing aid. The UTEP study looked at subjects in their 50s and 60s who had never worn hearing aids. After only two weeks of use, they did better recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests, and improved the processing speed at which they responded.

Is There Really A ‘Fat’ Gene? 

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is. NIH researchers announced this fall that they believe a single variation in the gene for brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) may influence obesity, both in adults and children. Dr. Jack A. Yanovski, an investigator at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, notes that this less-common version may predispose people to obesity by producing lower levels of BDNF protein, which is a regulator of appetite. “The BDNF gene has previously been linked to obesity, and scientists have been working for several years to understand how changes in this particular gene may predispose people to obesity,” says Yanovski. Rather than being a rare mutation, the less common variation of BDNF actually occurs in the general population and that’s an important fact.  So, is there any way we can increase BDNF level in the body?

Yelena Samofalov, MD Trinitas Pediatric Health Center 908.994.5750

Dr. Yelena Samofalov, Trinitas Pediatric Center, believes so.  “Previously, it was thought that only vigorous exercise could stimulate production of this less-common version of BDNF,” she explains. “However, recent research shows that simple walking or doing light housework or yardwork can present benefits of not only staying fit, but increasing synthesis of BDNF in the brain.”  Dr. Samofalov and Dr. Yanovski concur that boosting BDNF protein levels could offer help to people with the gene variation—which tends to occur with greater frequency in Hispanics and African Americans than in Caucasians.  

New Advance in  Artificial Intelligence      

University of Chicago bioengineers have developed a mathematical algorithm that can sense what the human body “wants” to do in everyday situations. They believe it is that help people overcome obstacles and disturbances—from cars that steer out of icy skids to prosthetics that help stroke patients complete simple tasks smoothly. “If you know how someone is moving and what the disturbance is, you can tell the underlying intent,” explains Justin Horowitz, who authored the study, who adds that machines programmed with these algorithms could react and correct in a fraction of the time it takes average humans—who sometime freeze and don’t react at all.