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.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Unveils Cancer Center Expansion

READING, Pa. – A $5.5 million addition to Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center featuring leading-edge radiation oncology technology is now open and offering people in the Berks region a wider range of treatments close to home. Penn State Health St. Joseph celebrated the expansion on Wednesday evening.

“We know that a cancer diagnosis changes everything,” said Dr. Marc Rovito, medical director of the Cancer Center. “But with new technologies, treatment options, clinical trials, support services and continuity of care, we offer more options right here that enable patients and their families to maintain a quality of life while they undergo treatment.”

The 2,400-square-foot addition includes a state-of-the-art TrueBeam linear accelerator. This technology gives cancer patients fast, more targeted radiation treatment that is more comfortable, more precise and causes fewer side effects than traditional radiation treatments.

TrueBeam linear accelerator technology is a powerful combination of 2-D, 3-D and 4-D imaging that is updated every 10 milliseconds, monitors a patient’s breathing and body movement, and allows for faster, more potent doses of radiation directly to a tumor site without damage to surrounding tissue or nearby organs. Cancer physicians at St. Joseph can use this technology to create individualized and more precise treatment plans. Tailored plans and fewer and shorter sessions drastically reduce the treatment time for patients.

“Investments in expanding services and innovative technology like TrueBeam serve as a prime example of what it means for St. Joseph to be a part of Penn State Health,” said John Morahan, president of Penn State Health St. Joseph. “Investments like these further establish the capabilities of the full-service cancer program at St. Joseph and ensure our patients have direct access to the enhanced capabilities of the Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center provides services 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 for new cancer treatments.

Gloria Rosado Takes the Lead on La Belleza Event

Working from her small office in the Downtown Campus’ Family and Women’s Care area, Gloria Rosado is a driving force behind the popular La Belleza de Nuestra Salud community event, held for each of past nine years.

Geared to Reading and Berks County Latina women, the event was held in October in the main ballroom of the Abraham Lincoln Ballroom.

La Belleza de Nuestra Salud, which translates to “the Beauty of Our Health,” features educational speakers and presentations, beauty services including chair massages and hand treatments, health screenings, exhibits and food. All presentations and events are in Spanish.

Rosado, a Penn State Health St. Joseph OB/GYN social worker who serves on the committee that plans and organizes the event each year, said it’s a great deal of work, but all worthwhile.

“La Belleza is a health fair for Spanish speaking women, and it’s important to our community,” she said. “It lets people know what services are available and it brings people together.”

The ongoing opioid crisis was the theme of this year’s fair, with a panel discussion covering a variety of related topics. Dr. Janie Simmons, director of opioid overdose prevention initiatives or the Center of Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research, was the keynote speaker, presenting a Spanish version video about Naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug.

“We know that the opioid problem is a crisis, and we wanted to address that this year,” Rosado said. “In addition to Dr. Simmons, we had a panel of speakers and also therapists on hand to talk to patients and family members about opioid use and treatment.”

Hundreds of people attended the event, for which there is no cost.

Education is extremely important for the Latino community, explained Marlin Jusino-Bobe, a Penn State Health St. Joseph pediatric social worker, and the La Belleza event gives educators a chance to reach out to members of that community.

Jusino-Bobe works to help parents understand what services are available for children who are having trouble in school and need extra help.

“We realize that there’s a lot of need for special education for the children, and we want to help parents understand how to get help for that,” she said.

Also, Rosado explained, Latinas need to understand what health services are available, and why tests like mammograms and colonoscopies are important.

“Latinos need these services and this education, and they need to hear it in their native tongue,” she said. “If a person does not receive clear and concise medical instruction, it could have very serious consequences.”

Members of the Latino community are less likely to receive diagnostic screenings and tend to be diagnosed with serious diseases such as cancer later than members of some other ethnic groups.

While the theme of La Belleza de Nuestra Salud always deals with a serious issue, the tone of the event is fun.

Women get to catch up with one another, sharing news of their families, their jobs and their lives. They enjoy good food, get handouts from exhibitors and learn more about what’s happening in their communities.

With a number of community sponsors, including Penn State Health St. Joseph, the event has grown significantly since its start in 2010.

Rosado hopes La Belleza will be held next year at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Reading, as it was last year. That location was not available for this year’s event.

“We’re hoping that more and more people will get involved and the event will continue to grow,” Rosado said. “It’s an important resource for Latinas, and everyone looks forward to it.”

Centering on Parenting Program to Kick Off in January

Building on its highly successful CenteringPregnancy program, Penn State Health St. Joseph will in January begin offering a CenteringParenting clinic at its Downtown Campus.

A kick-off event was held at that campus on October 16, when pediatric providers and others learned about the intent of the program and how it will be implemented and run.

Start-up costs for the program were funded by a grant from the Boston-based Centering Healthcare Institute.

“This has been something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Laura Welliver, Grants & Special Projects Coordinator at Penn State Health St. Joseph. “We knew from our successful CenteringPregnancy program that this was the logical next step.”

Kim Hunter, OB Nurse Navigator, explained that the CenteringParenting program pairs 6 to 8 mothers, along with their partners, support persons and same-age infants together in community with their healthcare providers for the first two years of the babies’ lives. Each session serves as a well visit for babies, while also providing education, fellowship and support for parents.

“This is a proven program that benefits all involved,” Hunter said. “We want healthy moms, healthy babies and healthy families that make healthy communities.”

Participation in the CenteringParenting program has been shown to increase compliance with immunizations, well child visits, breastfeeding and other aspects of care. It promotes healthy lifestyles, gets patients actively involved in their care and promotes bonding among groups of parents and their children.

There are 61 CenteringParenting clinics across the country, with 39 more on their way to opening.

Liz Stern, a public health professional who serves as a consultant for the Centering Healthcare Institute, praised the Penn State Health St. Joseph team for its work of putting together a CenteringParenting program in just 10 weeks.

“I’m really impressed with how quickly this all came together,” she said.

Stern told physicians, nurses, medical assistants and support persons at the kick-off event that each of them will be vital to the new program.

“All of you in your different roles will be very important in making Centering successful,” she said.

Those involved with the program will undergo a two-day training program in November.

The CenteringParenting program begins when babies are one month old and continues through their second birthdays. Parents will be taught how to weigh and measure their babies and document the information in a special notebook, available in either English or Spanish.

Each meeting also will include activities involving babies and parents, refreshments and education.

“It’s a lot of fun and fellowship,” explained Stern. “But, if you hear a lot of laughing, don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s not important work happening there.”

The inaugural CenteringParenting group will meet January 7 and be made up of babies who were born in November and early December. Each group will include two facilitators, a pediatric provider and a community health worker, in addition to parents and babies.

Hunter said that Penn State Health St. Joseph, a certified Baby-Friendly hospital, is thrilled that it will have both CenteringPregnancy and CenteringParenting programs for patients.

CenteringPregnancy is a 10-session program during which 8 to 12 women due to give birth at approximately the same time meet for two hours, during which they receive prenatal care and education. Women typically bond during these sessions and had expressed interest in continuing to meet once their babies were born, Hunter explained.

“Women love the CenteringPregnancy sessions and kept asking why did they have to stop getting together when the baby was born,” Hunter said. “Now, with CenteringParenting, they won’t have to stop.”

Learn more about the Centering Healthcare Institute and the CenteringPregnancy and CenteringParenting programs at centeringhealthcare.org.

Kim Hunter, MSN, RN, OB Nurse Navigator Planning a pregnancy? Expecting this year? Want to check out our birthing center? Or just have general questions? Call Kim Hunter, MSN, RN, OB Nurse Navigator and let her be your personal guide.
610-378-2569   |   KHunter3@PennStateHealth.psu.edu   |   www.StJoesSpecialDeliveries.org

Downtown Family Residency Practice “Prescribes” Reach Out and Read Program

Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Family Residency launched the Reach Out and Read Program on September 6, 2018, championed by Dr. Christina Raguckas. The Reach Out and Read Program is a partnership with healthcare providers to promote literacy to pediatric patients. Exposure to reading in the first six years is critically important because this is when 95% of brain development occurs. Fifty percent of children living in poverty will arrive to kindergarten with below grade level reading skills, which can limit their success in school and lessen their likelihood of graduating. 91% of children do receive routine pediatric care at least yearly; making pediatric healthcare practices a great location to connect with future readers.

When a child arrives for a wellness visit, he/she is presented with a new, age and language appropriate book. The Residency Provider introduces the book to both the patient and parent, explaining the importance of literacy and reading aloud to young children. Patients and parents are excited to receive a new book and the Residency Providers are happy to promote such an important foundation of learning to the families.

The Family Residency Practice did not want the literacy initiative to just stop there. During many visits, siblings are also present. The practice has been able to offer books provided by the generosity of The St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation to siblings and older readers. Practice staff have also taken the time promoting activities for parents and children at the Reading Library; providing calendars of free activities to further promote literacy and family togetherness to their patients.

In the short time since the program’s inception, the Family Residency Practice has shared Reach Out and Read with 63 pediatric patients and their families. Each day – through the connections being made – great stories are beginning at the Downtown Campus.

College of Medicine Awarded Grant to Promote Healthy Lifestyles and Improve Nutrition in Lebanon and Berks Counties

Penn State College of Medicine has received a nearly $4 million grant to promote healthy lifestyles and improve nutrition for Hispanic people living in Berks and Lebanon counties. The award is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s REACH project and will be administered locally by Penn State PRO Wellness, a collaboration between the College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and Penn State Children’s Hospital.

PRO Wellness is working with Better Together, a Lebanon County organization, as well as Penn State Berks and Penn State Health St. Joseph to reduce health disparities related to nutrition and physical activity among Hispanics living in Lebanon and Reading. The grant will help PRO Wellness establish healthy nutrition standards in Lebanon and Reading, provide healthier food access at community venues and increase electronic benefit transfer acceptance. It will also help create bilingual hospital-based breastfeeding programming and support with Women, Infant and Children (WIC).

To improve opportunities for physical activity, PRO Wellness and partners will promote existing and new trails for walking and biking that connect parks, schools, businesses and community facilities. The grant will also support improvement of Lebanon and Reading’s recreational infrastructure to increase school involvement in physical activities, as well as expand diabetes prevention program offerings and train local, bilingual community health workers to connect individuals with chronic disease prevention programs.

The Better Together initiative, founded by philanthropist Jeanne Arnold, a former nurse and hospital administrator in Lebanon County, creates opportunities for better health and quality of life by aligning state agencies, schools, community-based organizations and policymakers to reduce obesity rates.

“Better Together’s goal is a healthier community for all. We know from research that Hispanic people are more likely to experience a higher prevalence of chronic diseases than non-Hispanic whites, and in Lebanon and Reading, Hispanics also experience higher levels of poverty, unemployment and a lack of health insurance than the state and national averages,” Arnold said. “This grant will provide resources to unite organizations, ideas and endeavors to address these issues.”

Dr. Jennifer Kraschnewski, executive director of PRO Wellness and associate professor of medicine, pediatrics and public health sciences at the College of Medicine, and Dr. William Calo, assistant professor of public health sciences at the College of Medicine, will co-lead the project.

“Penn State Health is proud to be a partner in this important endeavor for our region,” said Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, dean of Penn State College of Medicine, CEO of Penn State Health and senior vice president for health affairs at Penn State. “Multiple community health needs assessments have prioritized chronic diseases, obesity and inadequate nutrition as areas of concern in Lebanon and Reading. Working together, we will improve nutrition and access to physical activities to better the overall health for residents of these areas.”

Penn State PRO Wellness is committed to education and inspiring youth and their families to eat well, engage in regular physical activity and become champions for bringing healthy choices to life.

Virtual Reality Helps Penn State Health St. Joseph Pediatricians Solve a Problem

Doctors at Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Pediatric Practice had a problem.

A patient – a 13-year-old boy – was recently in need of immunizations. Doctors also wanted to draw blood, as the boy was taking psychiatric medications that call for routine monitoring.

The problem was that the child, who had recently moved to Reading and was living with his grandmother, was suffering from the results of severe sexual and physical assault, explained Dr. Jerry Lee, a pediatrician at the Downtown Campus.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions resulting from abuse made it extremely difficult for the patient to interact with doctors or allow anyone to touch him.

“It’s really a sad situation,” Dr. Lee said. “He’d been through a lot, and even with some medication to calm him, he couldn’t tolerate these procedures.”

After doctors had twice attempted to treat the boy with no success, Dr. Lee started thinking outside of the box.

Even for patients without the types of problems from which the boy was suffering, procedures like getting shots or having blood drawn can be upsetting, Dr. Lee explained. That’s because patients tend to become hyper-aware of their surroundings and what is occurring, which can cause some distress.

That distress was greatly multiplied in the case of the young patient with the history of abuse.

“I started thinking that we might have success if we could use some sort of sensory distraction with this patient,” said Dr. Lee. “I wanted to find a way to divert his senses away from the procedures.”

With an idea in his mind and money donated by the Reading Elks Lodge, Dr. Lee went out and purchased a set of virtual reality (VR) goggles. With a little research, he found an app that he could download onto his phone to give it VR capabilities.

“I thought that if we could use the goggles to distract him, he might be relaxed enough to let us give him the shots and get the blood drawn,” he said.

Prior to his appointment, Dr. Lee asked the boy’s grandmother to bring him to the Pediatric Practice. The patient was given a tour of the facility, told exactly what would occur during his appointment and introduced to pediatric nurses Terry Fealtman and Malissa Argyle. He even had a chance to meet Toni Baver, the phlebotomist who would draw his blood.

Dr. Lee also showed the patient the VR goggles and explained how they worked, checking to make sure the boy was comfortable with the idea of using them. He was.

When he arrived for his scheduled appointment about a week later, staff applied a numbing cream to the boy’s arm and again explained how the procedures would work. When it was time for blood to be drawn, Dr. Lee inserted his smartphone into the goggles, creating a VR experience.

“We put on a nice, relaxing beach scene that he could look around and explore,” Dr. Lee said. “He was so interested in what he was seeing that he didn’t even notice what was going on around him.”

With the procedures completed, Dr. Lee and other pediatricians are considering other instances in which the VR goggles could be employed.

“We’ll be thinking about how else we might be able to use this technology to alleviate discomfort,” Dr. Lee said.

In addition to thanking the Reading Elks for the donation that paid for the goggles, Dr. Lee praised the staff at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus.

“Their professionalism and technical expertise was just invaluable in this case,” he said. “This was definitely a team effort.”

While treating patients is all in a day’s work for medical professionals like Dr. Lee and other Downtown Campus pediatricians, Dr. Lee was humbled when he received a handwritten card from the patient’s grandmother, thanking him for his empathetic handling of her grandson, who had already suffered so much.

“If we can make things a little easier for patients and their families, then we’re doing our jobs,” Dr. Lee said.

Jerry Lee, MD specializes in pediatrics at Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Pediatrics Practice. The Downtown Campus is the largest ambulatory care center in the City of Reading and includes over 15 specialty services, primary care, women’s health and pharmacy services. Call 610-208-4554 for an appointment.

Cooking Demonstration Attracts a Crowd at Downtown Campus

The summer squash salad with herbs was met with approval during a recent tasting in the lobby of Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus, with some people returning for a second serving.

“This is really good,” one woman commented. “I don’t think I’ve ever had this kind of squash before.”

And that, according to Chef Chris Dibiase, nutrition services manager at Penn State Health St. Joseph, is just the point of the Downtown program.

“We want to introduce people to vegetables that they may not be familiar with, Dibiase said. “The point is to encourage people to seek out and eat these healthy foods.”

The cooking demonstration and tasting program, held on the fourth Tuesday of every month from 1 to 2 p.m., was started in June as an outreach to city residents, explained Lisa Weaver, Healthy Community Program associate for Penn State Health St. Joseph. The hospital also offers a farm market each Tuesday from noon until 4 p.m. at its Downtown Campus.

“That way, people who taste whatever we’re offering on a particular Tuesday can just walk a few feet and purchase the vegetables they just ate,” Weaver said. “The goal is to get them to use these healthy foods when they cook at home.”

The market, located in a room just off of the lobby, is offered in partnership with the organic farm at Blue Mountain Academy in Tilden Township. It is open to anyone, with cash, checks, credit and debit cards and SNAP accepted for payment.

Patients who are part of St. Joseph’s Veggie Rx initiative, an innovative program that offers vouchers that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables to patients suffering from conditions such as diabetes or obesity, also can use their vouchers at the farm market.

“We want to provide better access to fruits and vegetables for people who could benefit from them,” said Nicole Rhoads, a registered dietician with Penn State Health St. Joseph.

The Veggie Rx program is designed to expand patient knowledge of nutrition while increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, Rhoads explained. Vouchers also can be redeemed for produce at the Penn Street Market.

Offering portions of healthy foods to people who are coming and going at the Downtown Campus works toward both of those goals.

“People who try these healthy foods not only get the nutritional information about them, they also get to experience how delicious they are,” Weaver said.

In addition to the herbed squash salad offered at the Downtown Campus tastings, Chef Dibiase has served up a kale salad with chicken, a jicama slaw and an edamame salad. All of them were well received, particularly the kale salad.

“Some people were a little hesitant at first because they didn’t know what it was – they’d never eaten kale before,” Dibiase said. “But, once they tried it, they loved it.”

The next tasting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Summer Squash Salad with Herbs

  • 2 pounds zucchini and yellow squash (about 2 of each), halved lengthwise and sliced ½-inch thick
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup distilled white vinegar
  • ¼ cup water, room temperature
  • ¼ cup olive oil

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients until combined. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Serve cold.

St. Joseph Partners with Giorgio to Bring Healthcare to Employees

Many employees of the Maidencreek Township-based Giorgio Group of Companies experience long work days. They commute back and forth to their work sites, and have busy schedules outside of their jobs. All that can make it a challenge to schedule and receive regular, routine medical check-ups.

With that in mind, Penn State Health St. Joseph partnered with Giorgio to bring healthcare services right to the work places of Giorgio employees. Care is provided in a 32-foot recreational vehicle that’s been equipped to serve as a medical facility.

The idea, according to John Morahan, President and CEO of Penn State Health St. Joseph, is to increase access to healthcare, and to get employees to make primary care a priority. Too often, continued Morahan, primary care is not obtained, and treatable or preventable conditions go unchecked.

Community Health Workers Complete Training for Potential Careers in Medicine

There was nothing but smiles as15 students recently 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. “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. 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 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.

“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 https://www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/community-health-worker-training/ or contact Laura Welliver at 610-378-2474
or lwelliver@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Offers Free Breast Screenings

What began at Penn State Health St. Joseph as an annual event is now held monthly to provide breast health care for women who do not have access to health insurance.

Free screenings are provided one day a month at St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus, according to Lisa Spencer, Breast Care Patient Navigator. Most women get routine screenings, but if a problem is detected, further diagnostic screening is available.

Education about breast health also is provided. “We’ve had a number of women who have had issues, and we were able to get them additional imaging,” Spencer said. “Several ladies have been diagnosed with cancer, and we’ve been able to get them into care so they receive the appropriate treatment.”

The program is administered by Penn State Health St. Joseph, and funded by a national grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, based in Alexandria, Virginia. The program, which has been in place for about 10 years, formerly was funded by grants from Susan G. Komen – Philadelphia, Susan G. Komen- National and the American Cancer Society.

For many women without health insurance, a mammogram would not be an option without such a program. The screenings are advertised on the hospital’s website, Facebook page, Hispanic radio, and BCTV. Mostly, however, word gets out when one woman tells another that they are available. “A lot of news about our services spreads through word of mouth,” Spencer said.

In addition to the screenings, St. Joseph staff members can work with women who are uninsured to help them locate other services. Staff might help a patient apply for Medicaid, or identify another source of care.

Bilingual social workers and a “promotora” community health worker are available to help those who do not speak English.

“We are committed to helping these women and their families access the healthcare that they need,” Spencer said.

Hundreds of clinical breast exams, screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms, and breast ultrasounds have been provided, as well as biopsies, genetic testing and treatment. Under the Prevent Cancer Foundation® grant, Penn State Health St. Joseph will work to reduce cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic barriers and improve breast health for Latinas.

In addition to the monthly breast screenings, Penn State Health sponsors annual prostate and oral cancer screenings. Penn State Health St. Joseph offers free breast screenings at the Downtown Campus on monthly basis for women without health insurance. This is an invaluable service to detect issues and get them into care. Bilingual social workers are also on hand to assist with locating other services. Call 610-378-2959 for more information! #PSHSJ