Penn State Health St. Joseph has Decades of Experience in Wound Care
Penn State Health St. Joseph has been at the forefront of wound care for more than 20 years, leading the way in improvements that result in better outcomes for patients and their families.
The Hyperbaric Medicine program on the Downtown Reading Campus reached a milestone last week, providing its 10,000th treatment or “dive” since the program began in 2001. The program offers patients with hard-to-heal wounds an easy-to-use-and effective-treatment.
Employing innovative treatments including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, physicians, physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and nurses treat nearly 9,000 patients each year at two locations in Berks County.
A wound care center is housed in the Walnut Medical Pavilion of St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus in Reading, while the other is located in Wyomissing.
“We are one team with our doctors, nurses and therapists, doing everything we can to give our patients the very best care possible,” said Mike Zerbe, manager of St. Joseph’s Wound Care Center. “What we do here reflects St. Joe’s mission as a Catholic institution.”
Common types of wounds treated include diabetic foot ulcers; venous stasis ulcers; pressure ulcers; wounds caused by trauma; non-healing surgical wounds; burns; spider bites; wounds that result from poor circulation; and wounds that, for any of a number of reasons, are slow to heal.
Treatment of wounds can be difficult, depending on a patient’s overall health and circumstances that may negatively affect the body’s healing process.
The job of the wound care staff, Zerbe said, is to use every tool available to advance the healing process and assure the health of each patient.
Staff members also concentrate on educating patients and their families about wound prevention and how to care for a wound if one does occur.
“It’s one thing to help patients to heal,” Zerbe said. “It’s another thing to keep them healed. We need to teach our patients to think long term and do everything in their power to prevent a wound.”
Patients at risk for problematic wounds include those who have diabetes or another chronic, systemic disease; poor blood flow; venous issues; hardening of the arteries in the legs; and cardiac conditions.
Age also is a factor in healing, as it generally takes longer for wounds to heal in older people.
Fortunately, Zerbe explained, major advances have occurred in wound care during the past decades, enabling experts to be more effective and patients to benefit from better treatments.
Caring for difficult wounds is a specific practice that involves a variety of disciplines, explained Dr. Laura Guerin, a podiatric physician and certified wound care specialist.
St. Joseph’s wound care team works with vascular physicians, infectious disease doctors, general surgeons, plastic surgeons and others to systematically find and enact the most effective treatments for patients.
“There is a science behind wound care,” Guerin said. “We work together with all these disciplines to provide the best care possible for our patients.”
A component of care that sets St. Joseph apart from other wound care centers is its use of physical therapy modalities.
Modalities such as electrical stimulation, ultrasound and sequential compression can advance the rate of healing and are valuable tools in treating wounds.
“The majority of wound centers are nurse-physician based, but there’s evidence that these PT modalities really do work, and they may shorten the time of healing,” Zerbe said.
Therapists also address issues such as gait training and offloading of pressure areas.
Another valuable tool is hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which can speed healing by increasing oxygenation to the tissue around the wound. This therapy, available at the Downtown Campus, is used to treat hard-to-hear wounds like diabetic foot ulcers, gangrene chronic bone infection, radiation injured tissue, crush injuries and other, specific conditions, with an easy-to-use and effective treatment.
The Hyperbaric Medicine program recently reached a milestone, providing its 10,000th treatment or “dive” since the program began in 2001.
The first Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber arrived in 2001 and was incorporated into the Wound Center at the Downtown Campus. A second chamber followed at the same location in 2003. Each chamber is a large, acrylic walled unit which lessens confinement anxiety and has a TV/ DVD and radio/CD player available during treatments.
The see-through, full body chambers deliver 100% oxygen which enters a patient’s body through normal breathing. Because the pressure in the chamber is greater than normal atmospheric pressure, patients take in 20 to 30 times the normal rate of oxygen. How the body uses that super dose of oxygen is the key to faster wound healing.
Candidates for Hyperbaric Therapy are evaluated by a specially-trained physician to see if they meet the criteria for treatment, and a trained physician and registered nurse or physical therapist monitors each treatment.
The average treatment lasts 100 to 130 minutes. Most treatment protocols for chronic conditions require between 20 and 60 daily treatments.
Specialized care can benefit anyone who has a wound that won’t heal. A wound that has not healed within three or four weeks should definitely be addressed. Patients can consult with their primary doctors, who may refer them for specialized care.
“When in doubt, get it checked out,” Zerbe advised. “Wounds that are treated earlier tend to heal more quickly with fewer complications.”