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.

New Machine at Penn State Health St. Joseph Advances Treatment for Cancer Patients

Written by Susan Shelly – Reading Eagle Correspondent

The Bern Township hospital has acquired a TrueBeam linear accelerator.

The star of the show during an open house last week at Penn State Health St. Joseph was not a hospital official, physician or even the Penn State mascot, who joined the< event celebrating a $5.5 million expansion to the hospital's cancer center.

Central to the event was the hospital’s new TrueBeam linear accelerator, a state-of-the-art machine that delivers what is said to be the most advanced radiation technology available to remove tumors. The linear accelerator is fully integrated for image-guided radiotherapy and radiosurgery.

It can be used to treat cancer anywhere in the body where radiation treatment is appropriate, including lung, breast, prostate gland and head and neck.

The TrueBeam linear accelerator enables providers to capture and analyze data relating to a particular patient, and to adjust the type of radiation delivered depending on
the patient’s needs.

“As a technology, this allows us to treat cancers faster, with a lot greater precision and accuracy,” explained Dr. Navesh Sharma, a radiation oncologist at the cancer

Sharma, who is nationally and internationally known for his expertise with Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, or SIRT, a treatment that targets tumors in the liver with
precise, high doses of radiation while sparing as much normal tissue as possible, is excited about the acquisition of the TrueBeam linear accelerator.

“It’s another tool that helps us to deliver the very best care possible to our patients,” Sharma said. “It definitely enhances the capabilities that we had in the past.”
Penn State Health St. Joseph also has an older model linear accelerator, but it has less capacity than the new one.

Sharma, who came to Penn State Health St. Joseph in 2015 from the University of Maryland, said that knowing the hospital would be acquiring the TrueBeam linear
accelerator factored into his decision to make a move.

“That’s one of the things that lured me here,” he said. “Knowing that I would get to work with this machine was a motivating factor for me.”

Experts at the University of Maryland developed the software for the TrueBeam linear accelerator, said Sharma, who also is a faculty member at Penn State Health Milton
S. Hershey Medical Center, and he was well aware of its capabilities.

Complementary to the TrueBeam system is an extracranial tracking system used to treat prostate cancers.

Calypso Extracranial Tracking, known as the GPS for the prostate, tracks tumors in real time, detecting the slightest movement of the tumor and guiding the physician in
repositioning of the patient, if necessary.

This, explained Sharma, enables him to target the tumor with extreme precision and avoid affecting healthy surrounding tissue. It also reduces the amount of time needed
to deliver the treatment, down to about five minutes from 20.

Planning for the new linear accelerator, which was delivered in September and saw its first patient in December, was in the works for three years, according to Tamara
Devries, a radiation therapy physicist at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

A 2,400 square-foot wing including a specialty vault was added to the cancer center to accommodate the linear accelerator, which weighs 15,000 pounds.
“It was quite a project, because we wanted to make sure we got it exactly right,” Devries said. “We waited for a long time for this machine.”

The TrueBeam system, which requires 16 computers to operate, is the only such machine available in Berks County, according to John R. Morahan, president and chief
executive officer of Penn State Health St. Joseph.

The radiotherapy system will be an important tool for the capable doctors in the hospital’s cancer center.

“We are pleased to be able to put the power of TrueBeam into the skilled hands of Penn State Health doctors like Dr. Sharma,” Morahan said.

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.

Harp Music Offered at Hospital for Patients, Visitors and Staff

Wendy Thompson has learned a lot about the gifts of music since she took up the harp three years ago and started playing her instrument in hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

She has seen the music she plays comfort people who were very sick, including several who would pass away in her presence. She listened to an elderly woman who suffered from severe dementia sing along with her as she played, remembering every word of the old song.

Thompson, who trained through Bedside Harp, a harp therapy instructional and certification program based in Bensalem, Bucks County, has witnessed powerful responses to her playing, not only from patients, but also from family members, friends and hospital staff.

“This really has exceeded my expectations,” Thompson said. “It’s lovely to play for people, but I didn’t realize that I would get so much out of it. It’s extremely rewarding.”

Having recently moved to Berks County from Bethlehem, Northampton County, Thompson offered her talents to Penn State Health St. Joseph. Barbara Moyer, director of volunteers, was delighted to bring her on board.

“I heard her play and it was really special,” Moyer said. “I was moved by the music and the way that Wendy conducts herself.”

Playing a harp in a hospital is one thing, Thompson explained, but being mindful and aware of who is around you and how the music is being received are quite other things.

“There are a lot of things you have to think about when you’re playing for someone who is sick,” she said.

Cultural differences, personal preferences regarding music, attitudes of family members, the physical, mental and emotional condition of the patient and other factors all affect how Thompson interacts – or doesn’t interact – with patients.

Normally, she explained, she simply walks through a hallway, quietly playing a simple tune or even just notes on her harp.

She’ll slow down in front of a patient’s room, seeking signals that indicate whether or not her presence will be welcomed. If a patient shows interest, she will stand in the doorway or enter the room. If not, that’s okay, as well.

“I’m never offended if someone doesn’t want music,” Thompson said. “It’s strictly a personal preference.”

On a recent day in the hospital, Thompson was warmly welcomed into the room of a male patient whose wife and daughter were visiting.

She played several songs, chatting in between as the family engaged her in conversation about their own musical experiences. They thanked her warmly as she left for the next room, where the patient occupying it had no interest in listening to harp music.

“Every room is different,” Thompson noted. “I’ve learned to be very observant since I started doing this.”

At the door of each room, she’ll look for clues that might help her decide what to play. Someone who has a bible next to their bed might enjoy hearing a hymn, for instance. Balloons in the room could indicate that a child is there.

Once, Thompson related, she had begun to play in a patient room when she noticed that the patient’s hands were shackled to the bed, indicating that he was in police custody.

Without pausing, Thompson continued to play.

“I didn’t need to know any more about that,” she said. “My job was to cheer him up and provide comfort.”

While patients are a priority, the harp music is also targeted to staff members, many of whom appreciate a little diversion from their busy routines.

“I have a series of songs that are intended to be uplifting to staff,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s harp music is expected to continue to be heard throughout the hospital, filling a space where sometimes words fail.

“Music often says things that words cannot,” Thompson said.

2D vs. 3D Mammogram: When to Have the Upgrade

The latest mammogram technology for breast cancer screening is now available at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Bern and Exeter locations, providing patients with an additional option for their care.

St. Joseph’s offers 3D mammography, also known as breast tomosynthesis, an advanced technology that takes multiple images of breast tissue and recreates a 3D picture of the breast. 3D mammograms have higher cancer detection rates than standard 2D mammograms, and also result in fewer patient callbacks.

Dr. Steven Chmielewski, a radiologist with Penn State Health St. Joseph, explained that 3D tomosynthesis provides multiple thin slice images of the breast, enabling radiologists to view each image separately. That avoids the issue of overlapping tissue, which can hide small cancers in a conventional mammogram.

“By minimizing the effects of overlapping tissue with 3D tomosynthesis, we can provide a more accurate, confident and earlier diagnosis,” Chmielewski said.

Because the images produced with 3D mammograms are clearer and easier to read, there is less need to bring patients back in for further screening.

“We’re finding that with 3D mammograms the recall rate is less because we can see more,” said Lynn Kaufman, director of imaging at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

The process for a patient getting a 3D mammogram is no different from that of getting a 2D, although the 3D does deliver a bit more radiation. The radiation dose from a 3D mammogram, however, is still well within FDA approved limits. Both 2D and 3D mammograms are low-dose x-rays.

3D mammograms are particularly important for women who have dense breast tissue, meaning that their breasts contain more glandular tissue compared to fatty tissue.

While fatty tissue appears gray on a mammogram, glandular tissue appears white – as does cancer. This means that women with dense breast tissue experienced more frequent callbacks because the x-rays were often difficult to read. Radiologists can get a much clearer look at the breast with 3D mammograms, making it easier to differentiate glandular tissue from cancer cells.

Reducing the number of callbacks for patients with dense breast tissue not only increases the comfort level of those patients, but may make women more likely to get mammograms on a regular basis.

“Since we will be reducing the callback rate for screening studies, particularly in patients with dense breast, I hope to lessen the anxiety associated with mammography, and improve compliance with this improved screening tool,” Chmielewski said.

It’s important for patients to understand the differences between 2D and 3D mammograms, because they typically will decide which type of x-ray they will receive, explained Kaufman. While most insurances now cover 3D mammograms, some do not, meaning that patients could be charged a fee for the advanced technology.

“Patients should always check with their insurance providers to make sure that they’re covered,” Kaufman said.

Women undergoing screening mammograms – those that are routinely administered to detect cancer in patients who have no symptoms – are given the option of having either a 2D or 3D procedure. Anyone who has experienced a problem and has been referred for a diagnostic mammogram, however, will be very strongly encouraged to opt for a 3D mammogram.

“If diagnostic is needed, we will definitely recommend that women do a 3D,” Kaufman said.

Mammograms are an essential – although sometimes underutilized – part of routine health care. According to Kaufman, Penn State Health St. Joseph is looking to reduce or remove barriers such as language, transportation, time constraints and immigration status that sometimes prevent women, both insured and uninsured, from getting mammograms.

“We’re going to work on ways to get more women to be compliant for screening,” Kaufman said.

Regardless of whether a woman chooses 2D or 3D technology, mammograms are an important piece of a woman’s health care, said Anne Welsh, lead mammography specialist at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

“Mammography is still the gold standard in breast imaging, and it is the first step in the screening process,” Welsh said. “2D is, and continues to be a benefit to patients, while 3D tomosynthesis is an advantage that makes the gold standard even more important, especially for women with dense breasts.”

In addition to the 3D systems in place at St. Joseph’s Exeter and Bern locations, patients may also have access to systems at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Efforts also are underway to make 3D screening available at St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus.

Ready for a Mammogram? Call 610-378-2100 to schedule an appointment.

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.

Urgent Health Care Centers Cut Down on Wait Times and Save Healthcare Dollars.

It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re still not feeling better. You’ve rested all weekend, thinking whatever is making you sick would pass, but now you feel worse than ever. Your doctor’s office isn’t open on weekends, and you’re supposed to be in a meeting at work tomorrow morning at 9. What to do? Head to one of Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Urgent Care Centers, where you’ll see a healthcare provider who can advise you on your condition and help you make a plan for recovery.

Healthcare providers at Urgent Care Centers can treat fractures, cuts, burns and other injuries, as well as conditions such as an allergic reaction, flu, mild to moderate asthma attack, eye irritation, or nausea. Each location has X-ray and lab services so patients can be diagnosed and treated during their visit.

“We provide access for patients with acute but not life threatening illnesses or injuries 364 days of the year,” said Debbie Wingenroth, Director of Ambulatory Sites for Penn State Health St. Joseph.

With locations in Strausstown, Maidencreek Township and Muhlenburg Township, St Joseph’s Urgent Care Centers are accessible to patients throughout Berks County.

Patients do not need to schedule appointments at Penn State Health St. Joseph Urgent Care Centers, and all the facilities are open until 9 p.m. to accommodate people who work during the day. You can learn more about our Urgent Care Centers, including exact location, hours and when urgent care is appropriate at https://www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/urgent-care/ Don’t forget there are three convenient Penn State Health St. Joseph Urgent Care facilities in Berks County to provide you healthcare quickly. We can treat fractures, cuts, burns, and other injuries, as well as conditions such as an allergic reaction, flu, mild to moderate asthma attack, eye irritation, or nausea. Each location has X-ray and lab services so patients can be diagnosed and treated during their visit. #UrgentCare #WhyWait #PSHSJ

New Locations Provide More Options, Convenience for Patients

Penn State Health St. Joseph significantly expanded its reach in Berks County with the opening of the Spring Ridge Health Corridor in December 2016, and a satellite location for physicians and outpatient services in Robesonia in May 2017.

According to Mary Hahn, vice president of ambulatory services and business development, the locations offer patients a range of needed services in easily accessible locations.

The Spring Ridge Health Corridor, located at 2607 Keiser Blvd. in Spring Township, offers primary care services, mammography, physical therapy, ultrasound, wound care, X-ray, and laboratory services.

Located in one of St. Joseph’s fastest-growing physician practice locations, the Spring Ridge facility is close to other specialty providers, making it easier for patients and doctors to interact.

The Robesonia facility, located at 410 E. Penn Ave. across from Conrad Weiser High School, houses a three physician family medical practice.

Physicians Meredith Gable, Robert Mandel and Roland Newman were friends and colleagues prior to becoming partners in St. Joseph’s new medical practice.

“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.”

The partnership has taken off, with their practice in Western Berks expanding. In addition to primary care, the facility offers EKG, X-ray, lab services, and physical therapy.
“We work in a family-oriented and collaborative atmosphere,” said Dr. Gable. “We do everything from newborn to palliative and hospice care.”

The Western Berks location gives residents convenient access to services, close to home, according to Hahn.

“As a high quality, low-cost healthcare provider, we look forward to better serving the health and wellness needs of the communities in Western Berks,” she said.

Penn State Health St. Joseph is in constant growth mode. They have expanded locations to include Spring Ridge and Robesonia to provide more services throughout Berks County. At Spring Ridge, patients have access to primary care services, mammography, physical therapy, ultrasound, wound care, X-ray, and laboratory services. Robesonia combined practices to offer primary care, EKG, X-ray, and lab services. #PSHSJ #ConvenientMedicalServices