Making recovery his business
OLYPHANT, PA — Earning money came easily for Jason McConnell. From the time he was a teen, he pulled in hundreds of dollars per night at area hotspots as a …
OLYPHANT, PA — Earning money came easily for Jason McConnell. From the time he was a teen, he pulled in hundreds of dollars per night at area hotspots as a deejay. A substance use disorder eventually ruined his business relationships, his credit rating and his life before he got a DUI.
“That was really the turning point,” says McConnell, now 30 and sober for nearly six years. “The day after that DUI, I remember sitting in a rocker at my parents’ house, beneath the deck, and I felt so empty inside. That’s when I was like, ‘Let’s do whatever we have to do. I can’t live like this anymore.’”
For people like McConnell, who are intent on overcoming a substance use disorder and leading a healthier life, the challenge often goes beyond dealing with the physical and psychological addiction, according to the Wright Center for Community Health. People in recovery also face financial hurdles, often because social stigma and other barriers prevent them from vying for desirable jobs, or even entering quality educational and training programs. The road to recovery becomes blocked, potentially resulting in poor outcomes, even relapse.
Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak, the Wright Center’s president and CEO, who was also McConnell’s long-time physician, knew about the impressive strides he had made toward changing his life for the better. “She said that I would be great for a position as a certified recovery specialist,” McConnell recalled.
McConnell suspended business at his cell phone shop for two weeks so that he could complete the required training, then he began work as a certified recovery specialist—a person who has gone through the recovery process and can serve as a mentor, role model and motivator.
“When I meet a new patient, I try to explain to them that I’ve been where they’re at,” he said. “The job involves a lot of talking about your personal experience and giving suggestions.”
The Wright Center for Community Health — a provider of primary care, medication-assisted treatment and recovery-related services in northeast Pennsylvania — recognizes how difficult it can be to get and stay sober, especially if a person struggles to find and maintain well-paying employment, said a spokesperson. That’s why the Wright Center and multiple partners began a regional initiative called Project PROGRESS.
NORTHEASTERN PA — The Wright Center for Community Health, along with Luzerne County Community College, the Institute, the Northeast Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center and the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance have joined together to reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorder by connecting people in recovery with recovery- friendly employers in the new community-based, recovery-to-work program, Project PROGRESS.
PROGRESS is an acronym for Providing Recovery Opportunities for Growth, Education and Sustainable Success, and the program serves northeast Pennsylvania counties, including Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming.
“Often people connect recovery and substance use, which is true, but think bigger. Recovery is about coming into healthy ways of being. The impact of being in recovery is incredible and demonstrates hard work. Whole communities benefit when people are in recovery,” said Meaghan Ruddy, senior vice president of academic affairs, enterprise assessment and advancement at the Wright Center for Community Health.
According to Ruddy, many community members lack an understanding of addiction as a chronic illness. In addition, health care workers default to stigmatizing the language of addiction when treating patients and many employers refuse to hire people in recovery.
In November 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf declared the opioid epidemic a health emergency for Pennsylvania.
From 2015 to 2018, 1,149 people are reported to have died from opioid overdoses in the project’s six-county service area, according to OverdoseFreePA.
Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance, a member of the project, offers a recovery-to-work program to develop a strong recovery-to-work ecosystem, according to a press release.
Project PROGRESS seeks to promote educational options for people in recovery as well as promote community comprehension of the value of recovery.
HONESDALE, PA — Norma Nocilla, director of clinical operations and quality at Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers (WMCHC), received the 2022 Community Rural Health Leader of the Year Award on November 17, which is recognized as National Rural Health Day.
The award was presented by Lisa Davis, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH) at Wayne Memorial Hospital, WMCHC’s clinical affiliate.
Daivs recognized Nocilla’s background in healthcare leadership, quality and performance improvement. Through her various roles across her career, Nocilla gained insight into her own community’s needs as well as those on a state and national level.
“It’s great to be awarded for something I love doing,” said Nocilla, “especially for a population that is so deserving and in need of quality care.”
Shortly following the presentation at the hospital, Davis, Nocilla and representatives of Wayne Memorial Hospital and WMCHC—along with other area rural health providers—visited the Wayne County Courthouse as the Wayne County Commissioners issued a proclamation declaring November 17 as National Rural Health Day. (Click here for more information.)
The commissioners acknowledged the many accomplishments of Wayne Memorial as well as the Wright Center, the Himalayan Institute and the Wayne County Department of Aging in providing healthcare to the residents in rural Northeast Pennsylvania.
Both events took place during 2022 Rural Health Week in Pennsylvania, a time set aside to honor rural American residents, healthcare providers and communities.
MONTICELLO, NY — Students and staff at George L. Cooke Elementary School dressed to the nines in pink and denim on October 27 for the school’s annual fundraiser to support breast cancer awareness.
The yearly event offers students and staff the opportunity to wear pink and denim attire in exchange for a donation. This year, the school raised $675, which was donated to Ride 2 Survive Sullivan County.
The local organization provides gas cards to Sullivan County residents who are currently undergoing cancer treatment.
Learn more about Ride 2 Survive at ride2survivesullivancounty.org/.
HONESDALE, PA — Trees outside Wayne Memorial Hospital will be lit up to honor and remember loved ones during the holiday season. This fundraising tradition began in 1991, and the tree-lighting for 2022 will take place on Monday, December 5 at 6 p.m. at the hospital, located at 601 Park St.
The ceremony will include holiday music, a blessing and refreshments. Afterwards, a Memory Book will be displayed in the hospital lobby and on the hospital website, listing all the names of those honored or remembered.
“This is a really nice event,” said Joyce Malicky, Love Lites committee member, in a press release. “It lights up trees and hearts at the same time.”
To participate, download a coupon from www.wmh.org, fill it out, and send in $5 for each name by Friday, December 2.
HONESDALE, PA — The Women’s Health Center, part of Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers (WMCHC), welcomed Heather Mecone, certified nurse midwife, as its newest women’s health provider.
Mecone facilitates births at the New Beginnings birthing suites at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Honesdale, and treats patients for gynecological health across the lifespan with outpatient office hours in the Center’s Carbondale and Hamlin locations.
Mecone has been practicing as a full-scope midwife for 12 years. However, she began working in labor and delivery nearly 20 years ago as a nurse aide.
She admits her career choice was a calling from both a patient and healthcare-worker perspective, “I became an R.N. so I could eventually become a certified nurse midwife,” she said. “I saw midwives during my pregnancy with my first son. The more I watched them, the more certain I was that I wanted to pursue a career in midwifery myself.”
“The addition of Heather is part of an expansion initiative to improve community access and meet the demand for quality compassionate women’s health services across the center’s four sites,” said WMCHC executive director Frederick Jackson in a press release. “This will bring the contingent of Women’s Health providers up to 10, comprising four physicians, five midwives and one women’s health nurse practitioner.”
“I was looking for a practice with strong ties to the community that was in tune with the needs of its patients, promoted continuity of care and autonomy of practice,” said Mecone when asked why she decided to establish with the Honesdale health system.
The WHC accepts most private insurances, Medicare, medical assistance and participates in Pennsylvania’s Healthy Beginnings Plus program. A sliding-fee scale is offered for those who qualify. To learn more or to make an appointment, call the center’s main office at 570/253-3005.
MIDDLETOWN, NY — Garnet Health Medical Center has been recognized for its treatment of stroke, hip fractures, sepsis, pulmonary embolisms and respiratory failure, according to the health care marketplace Healthgrades.
The center received a five-star ranking.
Healthgrades evaluated patient mortality and complication rates for 31 common conditions and procedures at nearly 4,500 hospitals nationwide to identify the top-performing hospitals in those categories.
It found that patients treated for stroke in hospitals with five-star ratings for in-hospital mortality have, on average, a 52.1 percent lower risk of dying than if they were treated in hospitals with a one-star rating for in-house mortality.
Statistics are based on Healthgrades analysis of MedPAR data for years 2019 through 2021 and represent three-year estimates for Medicare patients only.
Consumers can visit Healthgrades at www.healthgrades.com to learn more about how it measures hospital quality. An overview of the complete methodology is available there.
For more information about Garnet Health services, visit garnethealth.org.
NATIONWIDE — November was National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month.
To mark these events, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging people to lend a helping hand to the caregivers they might know.
Providing help and support to caregivers can be easier than most people think. Even little acts can make a big difference. The Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley chapter offers these suggestions:
Learn: Educate yourself about Alzheimer’s disease, its symptoms, its progression and the common challenges facing caregivers. The more you know, the easier it will be to find ways to help.
Build a team: Organize family and friends who want to help with caregiving. The Alzheimer’s Association offers links to several free, online care calendar resources that families can use to build their care team, share takes and coordinate helpers.
Give caregivers a break: Make a standing appointment to give the caregiver a break. Spend time with the person living with dementia and allow the caregiver a chance to run errands, go to their own doctor’s appointments, participate in a support group or engage in an activity that helps them recharge. Even one hour could make a big difference in providing the caregiver some relief.
Check in: Many Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers report feeling isolated or alone. So start the conversation—a phone call to check in, sending a note or stopping by for a visit can make a big difference in a caregiver’s day and help them feel supported.
Tackle the to-do list: Ask for a list of errands that need to be run, such as picking up groceries or prescriptions. Offer to do yard work or other household chores. It can be hard for a caregiver to find time to complete these simple tasks that we often take for granted.
Be specific and be flexible: Open-ended offers of support (“call me if you need anything” or “let me know if I can help”) can be well-intended, but are often dismissed. Be specific in your offer (“I’m going to the store, what do you need?”). Continue to let the caregiver know that you are there and ready to help.
Help for the holidays: Holiday celebrations are often joyous occasions, but they can be challenging and stressful for families facing Alzheimer’s. Help caregivers around the holidays by offering to assist with cooking, cleaning or gift shopping. If a caregiver has traditionally hosted family celebrations, offer your home instead.
Join the fight: Honor a person living with dementia and their caregiver by joining the fight against Alzheimer’s. You can volunteer with your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, participate in fundraising events such as Walk to End Alzheimer’s and the Longest Day, advocate for more research funding, or sign up to participate in a clinical study through the Alzheimer’s Association’s Trial Match.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and ways you can support families and people living with the disease, visit alz.org/hudsonvalley
WASHINGTON, D.C. — An employee of the Wright Center for Community Health attended a summit held in November at the White House complex.
Melissa Bonnerwith, project manager for public health education at the Wright Center, presented a summary of the organization’s success in vaccinating certain vulnerable populations against COVID-19.
Bonnerwith delivered a poster presentation during the “Summit on COVID-19 Equity and What Works Showcase.”
The event was organized by the White House Office for COVID-19 Response. Participants included U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and other federal health officials.
Organizations were chosen because their evidence-based programs and initiatives “moved the needle on equitable COVID-19 outcomes,” according to organizers.
Bonnerwith shared insights gained by the Wright Center as a result of its months-long involvement in a Community Vaccine Ambassador Project, which was funded by the CDC. The pandemic-fighting project was conducted in partnership with the National Association of Community Health Centers and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.
Only 15 health centers and organizations in the nation were selected for the project. Those organizations, located in 12 states, received grant funding to focus on administering coronavirus vaccines to people in populations of special concern, including individuals with substance use disorders and individuals experiencing homelessness.
The Wright Center’s team members provided about 1,600 vaccine doses during the project period to people with substance use disorders, and more than 180 doses to people experiencing homelessness.
The CDC asked Bonnerwith to co-present at the summit with Kimberly Chiaramonte, a senior project officer with the Homeless Council.
Bonnerwith, who oversaw the Wright Center’s grant project, attributed its effectiveness largely to the ability of its “vaccine ambassadors”—three community health workers and three certified recovery specialists—to build rapport and trust with people in the populations of focus. In some instances, it took multiple conversations over several encounters with an individual before that person would decide to roll up a sleeve and get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The project also relied on the strategic use of the Wright Center’s mobile medical vehicle, which was deployed into the community 79 times as part of this grant initiative, Bonnerwith said. She also credited the involvement of the Wright Center’s strong community partners in Scranton and Hazleton.
The Wright Center’s patient data show higher rates of vaccination among the two populations of focus during the grant project, which incentivized participation with retail gift cards, than in the months prior to the project.
“We used targeted interventions, and ultimately saw that our rate of vaccination among people experiencing homelessness doubled, and our rate among people with substance use disorder increased 34 percent,” said Bonnerwith. “That’s pretty exciting.”
For more information, visit TheWrightCenter.org.
ALBANY, NY — New York’s Public Health and Health Planning Council met today to vote on regulations that would guide the implementation of two laws that were passed in 2021.
The first of those laws would require an average of 3.5 hours of care a day for each nursing home resident. This is a giant leap, because prior to the law’s passage, there were no minimum staffing requirements in New York. In order to meet these standards, most nursing home owners will have to hire more caregivers.
Another law requires nursing home owners to spend 70 percent of revenue on quality resident care—and 40 percent of that must be for staffing.
The regulations were passed unanimously; industry representatives testified in opposition and stated their need for more funding in order to follow the law.
Annesa Brown, a C.N.A. (certified nursing assistant) at Yorktown Nursing Home and an 1199SEIU member, said, “There must be laws, because we have already seen that too many nursing home owners will not do what is necessary on their own. Even when they make a lot of money, they always say they don’t have enough money for staff—they can’t afford it. So, now the law will require what should have been done a long time ago.”
Short-staffing has been going on for a long time, she said, “but it only became known to the public during the COVID pandemic. One wonders if we had not been through that tragedy, if the staffing issue would even be addressed now.”
A C.N.A. cannot do the job of giving compassionate care when there are 13 to 20 residents to care for at once, Brown said. “When this happens to me, I feel terrible that I have not been able to give my residents what they deserve. Caregivers like me wanted a job that helps people, wanted to be caregivers. We don’t want to leave the industry. But if we can’t afford to take care of our own families, how can we take care of others? Nursing home owners must invest in staff. Then they will see that it is not all that difficult to recruit dedicated workers.”
What if you had someone you loved in care? Brown asked. What if it was you? The situation would look very different.
Learn more about 1199SEIU at www.1199seiu.org/.
MIDDLETOWN, NY — Garnet Health Medical Center received a bariatric surgery excellence award from Healthgrades.
The Healthgrades award recognizes the top 10 percent of hospitals across the country in 17 specialty care areas. This achievement reflects Garnet Health Medical Center’s clinical outcomes for bariatric surgery and distinguishes them as one of the nation’s leading hospitals for bariatric surgery, according to a press release.
“Our bariatric surgery program delivers exceptional care by expert providers who are dedicated to outstanding patient outcomes,” said Rosemary Baczewski, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Garnet Health. “Our program is comprehensive and provides patients with treatment options and support every step of the way, leading to high success rates.”
Healthgrades’ analysis this year revealed significant variation in patient outcomes between hospitals with a Healthgrades specialty excellence award and hospitals that did not receive the award.
“We commend Garnet Health for their ongoing commitment to providing high-quality care to patients undergoing bariatric surgery,” said Brad Bowman, M.D., chief medical officer and head of data science at Healthgrades.
Garnet Health Medical Center was also recognized by Healthgrades for these 2023 bariatric clinical achievements: it was recognized for superior performance in bariatric surgery for the seventh year in a row. It placed among the top five percent of hospitals for bariatric surgery, and was in the top ten percent for the seventh year in a row.
It was also a five-star recipient for overall bariatric surgery for nine years in a row.
Consumers can visit Healthgrades at www.healthgrades.com to learn more about how they measure hospital quality and find an overview of the complete methodology.
For more information on Garnet Health Medical Center’s bariatric program, visit garnethealth.org/bariatrics.
SCRANTON, PA — The Wright Center for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education has named Paul Krzywicki as executive director of marketing and communications. A journalist and public relations professional, Krzywicki joined the Wright Center as manager of public relations in September 2021.
In this new role, he will serve as a member of the organization’s leadership team and provide leadership, direction and operational oversight of all marketing and communications functions for the Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education. He is responsible for directing the development, implementation and management of daily and routine communications, digital, print and broadcast media strategies, social media, video production processes, print materials, internal and external communications, and media and public relations programs.
Prior to joining the Wright Center, Krzywicki was the senior grant writer and communications manager of the Family Services Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania, a regional nonprofit organization that provides diverse services to children, individuals, seniors and families.
An award-winning journalist and public relations professional, he also was the manager of public relations and publications at Misericordia University in Dallas, PA, and held several roles at the Citizens’ Voice newspaper, including night city editor.
For more information about the Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education, visit theWrightCenter.org or call 570/230-0019.
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