Our Passion, Your Health

Our Passion | Your Health features stories on the latest happenings at Penn State Health St. Joseph. Check out our blogs, recipes, patient stories, program highlights, and new services that represent our passion...your health.

Cancer Center Expansion Offers New Cutting-Edge Treatment Options for Berks Community

The Nittany Lion joined in the festivities as a crowd of 75 celebrated the groundbreaking of a new $5.5 million addition to the Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center in April.

By year’s end, patients in the Berks region will benefit from faster, more targeted radiation treatments that are also more comfortable, more precise and come with fewer side effects.

“Our overall mission is to bring hope and healing closer to home, and this allows us to make that happen,” said Dr. Navesh Sharma, associate professor of radiology and chief of radiation oncology for the Cancer Center.

Scheduled to open by year’s end, the 2,400-square-foot addition will accommodate both a growing patient base, as well as a new, state-of-the-art TrueBeam® linear accelerator.

“With this TrueBeam® technology, we have some extremely sophisticated tumor tracking and imaging capabilities,” says Karen Wagner, St. Joseph’s director of oncology services. “The real value of this technology is that it will enable St. Joseph to offer patients options that were previously unavailable here.”

For patients, the expanded Cancer Center will offer a few key benefits:

  • Health care providers can tailor individualized treatment plans much more precisely, drastically reducing treatment time
  • More patients will qualify for nonsurgical alternatives that are less invasive, faster to perform and offer faster recoveries
  • Local patients receive state-of-the-art treatment closer to home

The hallmark of the TrueBeam® linear accelerator is a powerful combination of 2D, 3D and 4D imaging that is updated every 10 milliseconds, monitors a patient’s breathing and body movement and permits faster, more potent radiation doses directly to a tumor site without damage to surrounding tissue or nearby organs.

Dr. Marc Rovito, medical director for the St. Joseph Cancer Center, expressed his gratitude to Penn State Health for its continued commitment to providing high-quality care locally.

“Currently, these patients have to go elsewhere for the TrueBeam® treatment option, but they will not in the future,” Rovito said. “Through Penn State Health providers, cancer patients will have access to the incredible resources of a renowned university teaching and research hospital while receiving high-quality care close to home.”

St. Joseph Cancer Center provides state-of-the-art cancer treatment, including genetic education, counseling and testing for people at high cancer risk, minimally invasive internal radiation therapy for liver tumors and cutting-edge clinical trials research for new cancer treatments.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center Cancer Center features a multidisciplinary team of specialists who are dedicated to accurate cancer diagnosis and staging, innovative and appropriate treatment, collaborative relationships with each patient's physicians, and attention to the care of patients and their families. If you or loved one would like to learn more, contact us at 6140-208-8810 or email at info@thefutureofhealthcare.org

Community Health Workers Complete Training for Potential Careers in Medicine

There was nothing but smiles last month as 15 students graduated as new Community Health Workers during a ceremony at the Langan Allied Health Academy at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus in Reading.

The graduating class was the 10th cohort to complete the 100-hour training program, a collaborative of Penn State Health St. Joseph, the East Central Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Literary Council of Reading-Berks and other local partners.

While in training, students study a variety of topics, including chronic diseases, behavioral health, tobacco cessation, healthcare access and reimbursement, first aid, and basic medical terminology.

While some of the work occurs in the classroom, much of it is conducted in the field, as students are encouraged to be out in the community, learning about local resources, making contacts, and exploring what opportunities may be available to them.

Although the program is not set up as training for any particular position, completing it can help lead to a job, explained Laura M. Welliver, a Penn State Health St. Joseph Grants and Special Projects Officer who directs the Community Health Workers program.

Community Health Worker graduating class in December 2017.

“It isn’t offered as a job training per se, but those who complete the program report that it really helps them with career change or advancement,” Welliver said.

AlehyEspinosa Ramos, Community Health Worker graduate, addresses the class about her experience.

Ahely Espinosa Ramos of Reading said she hopes that graduating from the program will help her to find a job in which she can assist young mothers who are alone, a situation that she had experienced.

“I was that person who needed help and didn’t know anyone,” she said. “I’d love to be able to help someone else who is in that same situation.”

Sherian L. Henry of Spring Township has a background in teaching, but wanted to complete the Community Health Worker training in order to be a more effective helper in her community.

“I really wanted to find a way to use my skills in the community,” Henry said. “Completing the program really opened my eyes to the opportunities that are out there.”

A Community Health Worker is defined by AHEC as a “trusted member of the community with a gift for helping people prevent or manage disease or other physical or mental health issues.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph has hired Community Health Workers to assist with its Diabetes, Prenatal, Family Practice and Breast Cancer programs, explains Welliver. Graduates of the program also have been hired by agencies such as Berks Counseling Center and Centro Hispano.

“It works well to have Community Health Workers in settings that require a lot of patient follow up or intensive case management,” Welliver said.

Since Penn State Health St. Joseph began the trainings nearly four years ago, more than 120 students have graduated. The group that graduated in December was one of the largest cohorts in the program’s history.

Henry O. Mateo Mendoza receives his diploma from Kim Zientek, lead instructor of Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Community Health Worker program.

“It’s so exciting to see how this program has grown and the students have blossomed,” Welliver said. “There is a dramatic need for Community Health Workers in our community, and every one of these graduates can make a difference.”

Henry O. Mateo Mendoza, the only male to complete the training with this cohort, also is a student at Reading Area Community College and works a full-time job. While finding time for the training program was difficult, he said that having earned the designation of Community Health Worker is rewarding.

“I’ve been through a lot in my life, and if I can help someone with the skills that I’ve acquired, then that’s what I want to do,” said Mendoza, of Reading.

The Community Health Worker training program is offered at least twice a year, and there is no charge to participate. Anyone who would like more information can visit www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/community-health-worker-training or contact Laura Welliver at 610-378-2474 or lwelliver@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

Working to Overcome Antibiotic Resistance Program Aims to Trump Overuse of Antibiotics

With its new Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, the Penn State Health St. Joseph pharmacy has created a multi-disciplinary team focused on curtailing the routine-and oftentimes uncalled for-use of antimicrobial agents – known to most people as antibiotics. It is one way St. Joe’s is working to address the concern for a growing number of patients who are resistant to these bacteria fighting medications.

The stewardship group was founded in August and is led by Evan Slagle, PharmD, BCPS, St. Joe’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Pharmacist. Physician oversight of the program is being provided by Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Deb Powell.

Slagle says the group’s objective is to develop strategies to work on the optimal selection, dosage and duration of antimicrobials within St. Joseph.

He says antibiotic resistance is growing faster than the new drugs becoming available. And, as resistance grows, meaning antibiotics are not the effective treatment for some people they used to be, it can lead to severe consequences including higher mortality rates, increased lengths of stay and growing costs of care.

Slagle noted the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug administration, as well as Congress and the White House also are advising and monitoring how the healthcare system is addressing the issue.

Slagle is working with the stewardship group and caregivers on a number of pharmacy driven initiatives which are in place, and others will be coming, he added.

“Most of the immediate focus of our group has been to make sure we are meeting the stewardship standards of our accreditation/regulatory agencies,” says Slagle. “Our infection rates have been very good. Many of the strategies we have been enforcing are supporting this positive trend.”

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Lives of Penn State Health St. Joseph Donors Mirror Hospital’s Core Values

Ray and Carole Neag’s long history of giving is reflective of the core values of Penn State Health St. Joseph, said President and CEO John R. Morahan during a recent event to honor the couple.

Photo Courtesy of The Reading Eagle

“Ray and Carole together are all about improving health care and improving the lives of the most vulnerable among us,” Morahan said. “Their lives mirror the core values of this institution.”

A recent gift from the Neags will help Penn State Health St. Joseph to continue to practice and improve on its core values of reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence.

The Wyomissing philanthropists donated $2 million, with which St. Joseph purchased a da Vinci Xi robot that can be used to perform surgeries that are less invasive and quicker, requiring less healing time and less medication to deal with pain.

“With this generous gift from Ray and Carole Neag, we can now begin offering to the Berks County community the latest in cutting edge technology with the da Vinci Xi,” Morahan told a group gathered at the hospital to recognize the Neags.

The robot will be used at first to perform hysterectomies and other gynecological surgeries, and then expanded for other types of surgeries, including prostate, colorectal and general procedures.

It is the most advanced robotic medical technology available in Berks County, according to Marissa Miller, a surgical technician from Schuylkill County who is helping to train St. Joseph staff to use the robot.

“This is the only Xi in the area,” Miller said. “This patient population is getting the highest quality equipment available, and that equipment was not available in Berks County until now.”

The co-founder of Arrow International, now Teleflex Medical, a company that provides specialized medical devices, Ray Neag has a keen appreciation for advanced technology, especially that which is designed to benefit the medical field.

“New technology is the thing that we need for our community and our friends at St. Joe’s,” he said. “This is a great community, and we have to keep giving to make it even stronger.”

Carole Neag, a former emergency and maternity nurse, said that she and her husband are passionate about contributing to medical and educational causes.

“We come from a medical background, and we believe strongly in the value of education,” Carole said. “We want our gifts to help as many people as possible.”

While the Neags provided most of the funding for the da Vinci Xi, the cost of purchasing the machine, renovating an operating room to house the robot and training staff exceeded $2 million.

Dr. Harlan Kutscher, who practiced urology at St. Joseph before retiring, and his wife, Carole, donated funding for staff training.
That training is being supervised by Dr. Stephanie Estes, director of Hershey Medical Center’s robotics program. Estes also expressed gratitude for the generosity of the Neags and Kutschers.

“I am really grateful, and our entire community is grateful,” Estes told the couple. “Your energy and interest in this, coupled with a caring staff, will make it possible for us to improve our care for our patients.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph’s experienced surgeons and robotics-assisted surgery team now offer additional minimally invasive surgical options using the da Vinci Xi surgical system. If you have any questions or would like more information, contact 610-378-2898 or email info@thefutureofhealthcare.org

Flu Vaccine Rates for Kids May Drop When the Nasal Spray Vaccine Is Unavailable

Published: August 24, 2017
Released by Penn State

Influenza vaccination rates in children may have decreased for the 2016-17 influenza season because of a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the nasal spray version of the vaccine not be used, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers.

Parents often preferred the nasal spray vaccine for their young children because it was perceived as a painless and convenient option. Several studies initially found the nasal spray to be more effective in young children than the injectable version. In 2016, however, additional research found the nasal spray to be less effective than the injectable vaccine in preventing the H1N1 strain of influenza. As a result, the CDC reversed its stance and recommended against the nasal spray for the 2016-17 influenza season.

“We wanted to understand what happened to vaccination rates with this new recommendation,” said study co-author Ben Fogel, assistant professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine and medical director of Penn State Pediatric Primary Care. “Would this recommendation against nasal spray vaccine shake people’s confidence in the influenza vaccine in general or make them less likely to get it because they have to get a shot?”

Fogel and his co-author, Steven Hicks, assistant professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, retrospectively assessed total vaccination rates — along with early season and end-of-season vaccination rates — in 9,591 Penn State Pediatrics patients ages 2 to 17 years old in the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 influenza seasons. The researchers, who published their results in Vaccine, also determined the percentage of children who were vaccinated against influenza in subsequent seasons.

The researchers found that without the option of the nasal spray, total influenza vaccination rates in pediatric patients were 1.6 percent lower in 2016-17 than in 2015-16. Revaccination rates were even lower in children who had received the nasal spray the year before.

“We worried that there was going to be a huge drop off in vaccination rates without the nasal spray available,” Fogel said. “We saw a drop off but I would not call it huge, which is reassuring.”

On a national scale, a 1.6 percent reduction in influenza vaccination rates could be significant, resulting in 1.2 million additional un-vaccinated children.
“This could potentially lead to 4,385 additional influenza-related outpatient visits and 30 additional influenza-related hospitalizations among the 74 million children under the age of 18 in the U.S.,” wrote the study authors.

Among children in the study, influenza vaccination rates early in the 2016-17 influenza season were higher by nearly 2 percent than they were early in the 2015-16 season. The vaccination rates then dropped toward the end of the 2016-17 season. Researchers do not know why the rates started high and then dropped due to the retrospective nature of the study.

For children vaccinated in the 2015-16 season, those who were black, Hispanic, ages 13 to 17 years old, and had public insurance were less likely to get vaccinated again in 2016-17.
“One thing we found that we didn’t expect to see was a large percentage of people who switched their vaccine preference from one year to the next, meaning that one year they didn’t get the influenza vaccine and the next year they did or vice versa,” Fogel said. “Our data showed that 35 to 50 percent of people change their minds about getting the influenza vaccine from one year to the next.”

Though previous studies onvaccination show that the single highest predictor of getting a vaccine is if a person got vaccinated the year before, the findings of this study suggest otherwise.
“Instead, it seems that people may not be either vehemently pro flu vaccine or anti flu vaccine; rather if it’s convenient, they’ll get the vaccine, and if it’s not convenient, they won’t go out of their way to get it,” Fogel said.

The authors hope to do a follow-up intervention aimed at improving vaccination rates in people who might not feel strongly about the influenza vaccine either way.
“We plan to call patients who already have appointments scheduled during flu season and see if they can bring in a sibling at the same time to make that flu vaccine happen,” Fogel said. “I’m excited to see if we can drive vaccination rates up.”

Three Physicians and Friends Team up in a New Medical Practice in Robesonia

Similar goals and values, mutual admiration for one another and some fortuitous timing resulted in three friends and colleagues becoming partners in Penn State Health St. Joseph’s newest medical practice in Robesonia.

Physicians Meredith Gable, Robert Mandel, and Roland Newman began staffing the new family practice in May, and have been busy getting assimilated in the Western Berks community.

So far, they report, business is good.

“We do everything from newborn to palliative and hospice care,” explained Dr. Mandel. “Patients have their choice of doctors, but then we will always pick up for each other if one of us isn’t available.”

The physicians met in 2013 when Dr. Gable, 29, and Dr. Mandel, 33, and were residents in St. Joseph’s Family Residency Program and Dr. Newman, 39, was a faculty member there. They got along well, enjoyed each other’s company and discovered that their philosophies regarding the field of medicine were closely aligned.

With graduation looming on the horizon for Dr. Gable and Dr. Mandel , they began thinking about their options.

Knowing that Penn State Health St. Joseph was looking to expand its healthcare services to Western Berks, where it did not yet have a presence, the doctors decided to look into staffing it. They got Dr. Newman on board, and the three of them presented themselves as a team.

“I came to Dr. Newman and Meredith and asked what they thought about us coming together as a group,” said Dr. Mandel. “It seemed like the timing was good, and we all thought we’d be good partners.”

Leadership agreed, and the doctors got working to help design their new office space at 410 E. Penn Avenue in the former Giannotti’s Italian Kitchen, just across from Conrad Weiser High School.

EKG, lab services, physical therapy, and x-ray also are offered at the site.

“We were able to contribute our ideas regarding the design and look of the space,” Dr. Gable said. “We wanted to make it a comfortable and functional place for our patients and staff.”

The doctors also were able to hire their staff and set the tone for the practice.

“We want to offer high quality, comprehensive care in a family-oriented and collaborative atmosphere,” said Dr. Gable.

The doctors work well together, discussing concepts and problems in shared office space.

“This room is our fish bowl of ideas,” said Dr. Mandel. “I can’t tell you how many times a day I turn around to bounce idea thought off of Dr. Gable or Dr. Newman. I think that’s a good way to work.”

The friends and partners are excited about their new venture and are already planning how they’ll expand the practice. Family practice is an important specialty, said Dr. Newman, and in the past residents of the western part of Berks County did not have much high quality family care readily available in their community.

Their practice is accepting new patients, and the doctors are looking to engage community members in becoming partners in their health care. Each of the doctors spends a half day each week at nearby Phoebe Berks Village and Health Care Center, and are looking to become increasingly involved in the community.

“We look forward to working with our patients and the Greater Western Berks area,” said Dr. Newman. “Quite honestly, family medicine is the backbone of the medical system, and all of us are very committed to it.”

Robesonia's primary care physicians are available for adult and children wellness visits and routine screenings, non-emergency illnesses like earaches and sore throats, sports physicals and immunizations, and conversations about your health questions and concerns.
Call 484-987-3456 for an appointment or learn more here

Eagle Scout project benefits cancer patients

Ryan Dunlap, son of staff member Jason Dunlap, was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2015, and spent a lot of time cooped up in the hospital. He is in remission and is leading a very busy high school life.

In planning his Eagle Scout project for Troop 161 in Muhlenberg, he knew he wanted to give something back, so he met with Karen Wagner, Director of Oncology. While a patient at Penn State Hershey, he was given a bag that had lots of items to help him pass the time, and he wanted to do something similar for our adult cancer patients. His goal was to stuff 30 bags with items for the patients.

Ryan drew from his own experience, and asked other cancer survivors for their advice. Together, they drew up a list of requested items, and placed collection boxes in several staff areas in the hospital and at his church.

Dunlap, along with some fellow scouts, family, and friends, filled the goodie bags on Tuesday morning, far surpassing his original 30 bag goal. Thanks to his willing heart, and the donations of many, they were able to fill 146 bags with lots of snacks, adult coloring books, word search books, pens, tablets, gum, hard candies, toothbrush and toothpaste, tissues, and a myriad of other items.

The patients were thrilled to receive the bags, and were even more touched when they heard Ryan’s story. A note accompanied each one that ended, “I send my best wishes to you, and remember, never ever give up!”

Four scouts from Boy Scout Troop 161 gave out goodie bags to outpatients in the chemo room Tuesday morning. The project was part of Ryan Dunlap’s Eagle Scout project. Left to right: Ryan Dunlap, scout and cancer survivor; Tom Manno, cancer survivor; Christian Dunlap, Betty Manno, Tom’s wife; Brian Koenig, and Christopher Kachel.
Ryan Dunlap and his fellow scouts are surrounded by Cancer Center staff Tuesday morning, after creating 146 goodie bags for cancer patients.

Giorgio, Penn State Health St. Joseph Announce Mobile Health Initiative

Mobile healthcare vehicle provides medical care at 5 Giorgio worksites as company seeks ways to promote health, manage healthcare costs

Giorgio Group of Companies has entered into a partnership with Penn State Health St. Joseph for a “doctor’s office on wheels” to provide weekly primary health care services onsite at five Giorgio facilities. The program is part of Giorgio’s larger effort to ensure its employees are maintaining good health, and to create a culture of wellness by providing convenient access to medical care.

St. Joseph’s health outreach initiative with Giorgio comes in the form of a renovated, specially-marked and fully equipped 32-foot mobile healthcare vehicle called Health One. The unit is situated at a different Giorgio work site four days a week offering primary medical care services to employees who have pre-scheduled appointments.

Giorgio leadership’s search for a work site health option began after listening to its employees and understanding the challenges they face in maintaining good health. It became apparent that the constant demands of home and work prevent many from taking the necessary time needed to maintain good health.

“By providing easy access to our employees we could offer them the ability to maintain good health and reduce the risk of more chronic health issues in the future,” says Gina Delillo, Vice President, Giorgi Companies and Director of Human Resources. “Additionally, our health data showed that the majority of our employees do not take advantage of the yearly and age related physicals that are offered by our (benefits) plan.”

Delillo also noted that it was important to the company that employees “take the necessary steps in establishing a primary doctor.

“Primary doctors are ‘crucial’ in maintaining good health for the future,” she explained.

Delillo explains that Penn State Health St. Joseph bills directly to Giorgio’s insurance provider as well as any insurance provider that its employees may have. She notes this makes the mobile solution even more easy and convenient.

She believes that the mobile outreach will reduce Giorgio’s overall health care cost as it will “allow us to manage chronic conditions, and enable us to discover issues earlier and provide the necessary treatment to our employees.”

She also hopes to see “improved retention and recruitment as current and future employees see our commitment to invest in their health and well-being.”

From St. Joseph’s perspective, the mobile clinic is part of the larger plan to partner with the business community. Ideas such as Mobile Integrated Healthcare make care more accessible and also lower the cost of healthcare by offering earlier intervention.

“For some employees, our on-site clinic may provide their only regular healthcare,” explains Dr. Christopher Newman, Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Chief Medical Officer. “For workers who do have a regular provider, this will complement rather than replace those providers.”

“Further,” he said “The HealthOne Mobile Unit will build our relationships with the area employers. Many already know that St. Joseph is a quality and low cost care provider. This service reinforces our commitment to helping them manage one of their biggest business costs: health benefits expenses. We have a real solution that not only helps their workers be healthier but one that also has the potential to help them create a healthier bottom line, as well.”

Giorgio and St. Joseph emphasized that medical information required for the onsite clinic will remain confidential, and that care is provided by trained, certified professionals and that clinicians will do what is right for the employee regardless of cost.

Giorgio has plans in the future to make the services at the onsite clinic available to dependents. In addition, St. Joseph’s Occupational Health program will work with Giorgio to identify occupational health and safety risks and the solutions to mitigate them.

Debby Wingenroth, Director Ambulatory Sites, Urgent Care and WorkCare Services. Interested in learning more about our healthcare outreach services or how we can assist in coordinating and managing your companys work-related injury and occupational medicine needs?
Call Debby for more information. 610-378-2648   |   DWingenroth@PennStateHealth.psu.edu

Dinosaur visits day care to tell kids about the arrival of Thomas & Friends

Reading Public Museum’s Velociraptor Dinosaur roamed off the Museum grounds to visit children at Bright Horizons Child Care Center, the day care center for Penn State Health St. Joseph employees. The Velociraptor appearance comes from Reading Public Museum’s exhibition, Dinosaurs Around the World: Passport to Pangea, which is in its final week on display.


At the event, the hospital also announced that it was partnering with East Penn Manufacturing to support the museum’s next exhibit, “Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails,” which runs December 17 through May 31.

John Graydon Smith, the museum’s director, said the exhibit will allow families to explore and interact with faces and sights from the popular PBS series.