Success at NuHealth’s Heart Failure Center
For Elia Lopez, it began with a frightening shortness of breath. As she struggled to take in air, the growing feeling of dread so frightened her that she later admitted she was sure she was dying and only hoped to go quickly. Already a post-surgical rehabilitation patient at A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility, Ms. Lopez was quickly transferred to Nassau University Medical Center, where emergency personnel and, later, physicians in the NuHealth Cardiac Care department determined that she was experiencing heart failure — an all-too-common side effect of her hypertension and diabetes. It would be the first of four hospital admissions for heart failure in a three-month period.
Fortunately for Ms. Lopez, the recently opened NuHealth Heart Failure Center is now able to offer her new hope for a better life.
Cardiac events have become more and more survivable, thanks to advances in emergency and cardiovascular medicine. But in their wake, they leave patients with weakened hearts and a dramatically increased likelihood of a return trip to the hospital. In fact, more than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with heart failure, and it is the most common reason for hospitalization among patients over age 65. That is why NuHealth recently opened its Heart Failure Center — to keep patients like Ms. Lopez healthy and out of the hospital.
“People often confuse heart attacks with heart failure, but they aren’t the same thing,” said Deborah Ahern, ANP, Clinical Director of the NuHealth Heart Failure Center at Nassau University Medical Center. “Heart failure can result from a heart attack, or it may be caused by a number of diseases, but it simply means that the heart is not able to pump the required volume of blood necessary to keep the body operating. Regardless of the cause, our goal at the Heart Failure Center is to help patients who have suffered heart failure learn self care behaviors, and promote heart failure management skills so they can feel better, live longer and avoid readmission to the hospital.”
The NuHealth Heart Failure Center tailors a treatment plan for each individual patient. The patient’s plan often includes a combination of dietary changes, medications and devices, self-care skills such as stress reduction and individualized exercise programs to help maximize patients overall well being. Heart failure nurses carefully monitor each patient’s progress and provide seamless care which includes ongoing assessment, education, and help with lifestyle modification as well as emotional support.
“We spend a lot of time on education, teaching our patients how to manage their own care,” said Ms. Ahern, who has herself been a nurse practitioner specializing in heart failure for more than 25 years and came to head NuHealth’s Heart Failure Center from a similar position at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York. “We reinforce ‘these are the signs, these are the symptoms.’ Families and care givers play a big role, too, because they can also monitor the patient, give them the support they need, prepare appropriate meals and reinforce self care behaviors.”
Patients are monitored from home on a frequent basis, their weight and blood pressure and their general health checked via telephone. Medications and treatment protocols can often be changed over the phone, but a significant change in the patient’s stats might require a visit to the Heart Failure Center for further investigation. The patient’s case manager will also help coordinate visits to other NuHealth departments — particularly important because patients with heart failure often suffer from other medical problems as well.
“A large part of our success is also the relationship we establish with the patient,” noted Ms. Ahern. ‘We’re partners in their care. They know they can call me whenever they have a question or concern. We work together to help keep them healthy.”
Elia Lopez has made good progress thus far — she hasn’t needed to return to the hospital since becoming a patient of NuHealth’s Heart Failure Center.
“I feel very thankful for what they have done for me here,” said Ms. Lopez. “The medicine, the doctors, and the nurses in the Heart Failure Center…they saved my life. I feel more alive every day. I can breathe again and they are helping me take care of my heart. They are so very kind. I can’t thank them enough.”
For more information about NuHealth’s Heart Failure Center at Nassau University Medical Center, call 516-296-4949.