Recently diagnosed heart failure patients in Trumbull County are benefiting from a Humility of Mary Health Partners pilot program designed to help them avoid readmission to the hospital.
Provided by a $27,000 grant from the HMHP Foundation, as many as 39 recently diagnosed heart failure patients who meet specified health and financial-need criteria can participate in a four-month exercise rehabilitation program cooperatively administered by the Congestive Heart Failure Clinic and Cardiac Rehabilitation program at St. Joseph Health Center. The exercise rehabilitation program helps heart failure patients improve their stamina for physical activity and endurance while they learn to manage their disease.
Participants must be referred by their physicians and undergo an assessment at the CHF clinic before beginning the exercise program, which is tailored to meet the individual needs of each patient. During the CHF clinic evaluation, patients also receive one-on-one instruction on how to manage heart failure, reference materials, a scale to monitor daily changes in their weight – gaining 3 pounds over three days or 5 or more pounds in a week could indicate the patient is retaining fluid – a measuring cup to monitor intake of fluids, a pill box to organize medications and a tape measure to track swelling – and fluid retention – of the ankles, calves, knees, thighs and abdomen.
The goal of the program is to help patients manage their illness and improve their health, reports Joanne Delaquila, exercise physiologist at St. Joe’s. Patients who are healthier and actively manage their disease are less likely to be readmitted to the hospital and more likely to have a better quality of life, she says. Exercise helps improve heart function, so patients who are active remain healthier.
Program participants are required to visit the cardiac rehabilitation center at least twice a week and gradually increase the duration of their exercise sessions. Participants also must comply with their physicians’ orders regarding prescribed medications and sign a contract acknowledging that they will remain in compliance and meet the expectations for exercise.
Since she started participating in the program in February, Jackie Jones has increased her stamina so much that she’s able to do things she hasn’t been able to do in more than two years. The Warren resident and congestive heart failure patient uses a walker and is on oxygen but is able to stand at her sink to wash dishes and carry small loads of laundry to her washing machine. She still depends on a caregiver to do bigger household chores but, Jones says, “Now, I have the energy to do what I can do.”
She’s also lost inches around her waist so it’s easier for her to get behind the wheel of her car and the quality of her life is greatly improved. She gets out more, volunteers two days a week at her church, takes fewer naps and just feels better.
“I lost 10 months out of my life in 2011,” Jones says, recalling two hospitalizations that kept her confined. After her second hospitalization, she was referred to the CHF Clinic at St. Joe’s and, at the suggestion of health care providers there, began walking to help manage her heart failure.
“I had a hard time in the winter because I couldn’t get out,” she says. Snow and ice made it difficult for her to maneuver her walker through her neighborhood. Because she couldn’t afford to pay for a cardiac rehabilitation program or join a gym on her fixed income, Jones’ exercise regimen stalled and her health suffered. When she learned about the pilot cardiac rehabilitation program, she was eager to start.
“Jackie works very hard,” Delaquila says. She visits the cardiac rehab center twice a week and hopes to add a third day.
“I can do five times as much as I used to,” Jackie says with a smile. “Now that the weather is nice, I can do double duty, [working out] here and walking [at home]. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get gas to come, especially at the end of the month,” she says, “but it’s worth it.”
Jones is the first patient to participate in the pilot program. Thus far, five other patients have been referred by their physicians. Delaquila hopes the rate of physician referrals will increase. “There need to be more participants so we can determine how successful the program is in keeping heart failure patients healthy and reducing readmission rates,” she says.