Franciscan Alliance: Patient care always at the forefront

Franciscan Alliance: Patient care always at the forefront

Franciscan Alliance, University of Chicago Medicine form partnership

The University of Chicago Medicine and Franciscan Alliance have entered into a master affiliation agreement that creates a novel partnership between a prominent academic medical center and a leading regional health system. The affiliation provides for the joint development and implementation of clinical, research and educational initiatives.

Officials from both institutions emphasized the synergies that will result from the affiliation agreement, which focuses on the University of Chicago Medicine and Franciscan Alliance’s Northwest Indiana facilities including Crown Point, Michigan City, Dyer, Hammond and Munster.

“By combining the world-class tertiary and quaternary care and research capabilities of the University of Chicago Medicine with Franciscan Alliance’s extensive network of community-based hospitals and ambulatory centers, we will enhance patient care locally and provide seamless access and continuity for patients needing care at any level,” said Kevin Leahy, Franciscan Alliance’s president and chief executive officer.

Franciscan Alliance, one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the Midwest, has emerged as a leader in new approaches to payment and care delivery models. In December 2011, it formed the Franciscan Alliance Accountable Care Organization, the first and only federally recognized “Pioneer ACO” in Indiana and among the first in the country to partner with Medicare as an ACO. Headquartered in Mishawaka, Franciscan Alliance provides primary and specialty care services throughout its multi-state hospital system that includes more than 40 ambulatory sites.

The University of Chicago Medicine, an academic medical institution that includes the Pritzker School of Medicine, ranked eighth among medical schools in the country, attracts patients regionally, nationally and internationally for its specialty care services. Its faculty physicians undertake research in an extensive array of areas and are in the top five U.S. medical schools in generating federal research dollars per faculty member.

“This partnership brings together two health care systems that share both a dedication to excellence in patient care and a desire to develop new models of care in a rapidly changing health care marketplace,” said Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Chicago and dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine.

No reason to travel elsewhere, Franciscan Alliance provides all-inclusive help for lung cancer treatment

A comprehensive lung cancer treatment program is another reason Franciscan Alliance patients need not travel outside of the area for the best, most timely care.

“From diagnostics to therapeutics to surgery to recovery, our hospitals offer it all. We can do anything a ‘big-city’ hospital can do, with timeliness being a key factor,” said Michael Meska, Franciscan Alliance regional director for respiratory therapy, adding Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Michigan City, Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point and Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Dyer and Hammond are accredited, with commendation, by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.

The process begins with low-dose, CT Scan screenings, which are recommended for persons aged 55 or older, who are current or former smokers and are done following an initial patient assessment.

Smokers whose screenings are negative are referred to American Cancer Society cessation programs and are monitored.

Those whose results are positive, if the mass is small, enter a watchful-waiting program for six months to a year for assessment, Meska says.

Those whose tumors are larger are candidates for endobronchial ultrasound and electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy -- minimally invasive technology that allows lung lesions that are located beyond the reach of traditional bronchoscopes to be visualized and accessed.

Using a CT scan, computer software creates a virtual 3-D road map through the deep passages of the lungs. Once a catheter-type tool is inserted into the airway and reaches the tumor, tissue can be harvested for biopsy, tumor changes can be tracked and a marker can be placed to pinpoint the location for subsequent radiation treatment.

“Without it, we would have to use a needle to go into the lung, which has risks; or even do surgery, which has more risks,” says Don H. Dumont, M.D., a pulmonary medicine specialist. “But ENB is an outpatient procedure and the only recovery time needed is due to anesthesia.”

The hospitals also offer radiation therapy, medical oncology, brachytherapy and infusion services, as well as state-of-the-art Linear Accelerators, which allow for minimally invasive treatment and higher radiation doses, usually in two minutes or less.

If surgery is needed, Eias Jweied, Ph.D., M.D., and Chadrick Cross, M.D., perform video-assisted thoracoscopic lobectomy, which is minimally invasive, involves smaller incisions and results in less pain and faster patient recovery times. Average hospital stays are two to three days, compared to seven to 10 days.

“The public needs to know this procedure is available locally, since many people think they have to drive to Chicago to receive it. They don’t need to travel to Chicago; we bring the highest-quality services here, to them,” Dr. Jweied said.

The procedure, which mostly treats stages one and two lung cancers, involves using a small camera that is introduced into the patient through a scope, which allows the physician to view the instruments and the anatomy. The camera and instruments are inserted through ports, which helps to reduce the chances for infection and allows for a faster recovery.

Besides physicians, nurse navigators perform an invaluable role for patients throughout the treatment process, Meska points out.

“They help the patient navigate through all stages; they hold their hands through the process to explain and help them understand what is going on.”

Cancer support groups also are available at the hospitals.

“We have university-academically trained physicians and offer quality, more timely care along the continuum - from diagnosis, to treatment, which every patient deserves – all in our neck of the woods,” Meska says.

Franciscan Alliance hospitals earn Chest Pain Center accreditation, reaccreditation

Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point and Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Michigan City recently received Chest Pain Center with Percutaneous Coronary Intervention Accreditation from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care, while Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Dyer and Hammond received reaccreditation.

Accredited hospitals have achieved a higher level of expertise in dealing with patients who arrive with heart attack symptoms.

Such hospitals undergo a rigorous, onsite evaluation by review specialists, which assures centers meet or exceed quality-of-care measures in acute cardiac medicine. They must demonstrate expertise in the following areas:

* Integrating the emergency department with the local emergency medical system.

* Assessing, diagnosing and treating patients quickly.

* Effectively treating patients with low risk of acute coronary syndrome and no assignable cause for their symptoms.

* Continually seeking to improve processes and procedures.

* Ensuring the competence and training of personnel.

* Maintaining organizational structure and commitment.

* Having a functional design that promotes optimal patient care.

* Supporting community outreach programs that educate the public to promptly seek medical care if they display heart attack symptoms.

Hospital Chest Pain Center directors praised their staffs and colleagues for the honors.

“This is the culmination of an excellent collaborative process between the hospitals’ physicians, staff and ancillary services to provide the best care possible for patients experiencing acute coronary syndrome,” said Eric Cook, D.O., of Franciscan St. Margaret Health.

Carl Metcalf, M.D., of Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point, added, “Accreditation is a benefit to Chest Pain Center patients since it assures the kind of quality of care they will receive and puts us on the cutting edge of providing them the best possible treatment.”

Neil Malhotra, M.D., of Franciscan St. Anthony Health Michigan City, called the designation exciting, adding, “I am very impressed with the hard work of the staff. It shows how dedicated we are to providing the best possible care for our patients.”

About the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care

The Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care is an international not-for-profit organization that focuses on transforming cardiovascular care by assisting facilities in their effort to create communities of excellence that bring together quality, cost and patient satisfaction. As the only cross-specialty organization, SCPC provides the support needed for individual hospitals and hospital systems to effectively bridge existing gaps in treatment by providing the tools, education and support necessary to successfully navigate the changing face of healthcare. For more information on SCPC, accreditation and certification opportunities, visit, or call toll free, 1-877-271-4176.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


Crown Point, S'ville, St. John, Valpo popular among homebuyers

Crown Point, S'ville, St. John, Valpo popular among homebuyers

The Realtor mantra is “location, location, location.”

As existing home sales increase, Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors' numbers show local homebuyers are flocking to Crown Point, Valparaiso, Schererville and St. John.

Tiffany Dowling, a Realtor with Century 21 Affiliated, moved from Lowell into Winfield’s Doubletree subdivision this summer. Dowling said she and her husband focused their search in the Crown Point and St. John areas.

Dowling said they chose to buy an existing home rather than build because of their timeframe. The couple had just found a tenant to lease their Lowell townhome.

“We felt like it was a good time to keep that as an investment property,” Dowling said. “We picked either St John or Crown Point because of my business as both are so centralized.”

Dowling said Crown Point “has that small-town feel, but then you are still close to the mall. What I love about Crown Point and Winfield is that you are so close to Valparaiso, close to the expressway to get to Chicago and you are close to the oil refinery and steel mill for those types of jobs.”

Dowling’s husband works at BP Amoco, she said.

“With the new 109th exit, he is so close to I-65 and saves time,” Dowling said. “Most of my business is in the Lowell, Crown Point, Cedar Lake and St. John areas.”

Dowling said she loves the Doubletree subdivision.

Dowling said the new schools in St. John and Crown Point are definite assets to both communities. She said good schools and the small-town atmosphere but proximity to Chicago is what most of her clients are looking for.

According to Pete Novak, CEO of GNIAR, 9,444 properties were sold in 2013 across Northwest Indiana in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Newton counties. Novak said local real estate sales have increased monthly for the past 30 straight months.

Among the leaders in residential sales listed in the GNIAR multiple listing service in 2013 were Crown Point with 877 sales, including Winfield and Lakes of the Four Seasons in the numbers; Valparaiso at 740 sales, including Shorewood Forest; Schererville at 457; and St. John at 264. These numbers do not reflect existing homes or new construction not listed with a Realtor.

Location, affordability and quality of life are drawing people to the city, said Christopher Meyers, Crown Point building and planning administrator.

“Crown Point is definitely close to Chicago as well as being a good jumping off point to Indianapolis,” Meyers said. “We have really great arterials coming into the city and our school corporation is one of the best in the state. Relative to quality of life, we have the Sportsplex and various fraternal and other clubs and agencies that are very strong here in the city.”

Crown Point definitely has a hometown feel, he said.

“We have the square which is small mom-and-pop boutiques and restaurants,” Meyers said. “We have a variety of housing products from new tract homes to condominiums to historical homes as well as estate lots.”

Crown Point is in a good position financially with strong commercial development coming into the city, he noted.

Meyers said that Crown Point’s Hometown Festivals, including the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade, draw people to the city.

“They get to come in and see the square, the homes and the quality of our life and what constitutes the Hub City,” he said.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


Consumer spending picks up as new stores open

Consumer spending picks up as new stores open

Consumer spending has been making a comeback, and big stores have been cropping up lately in Northwest Indiana's retail sector.

Whole Foods' announcement it would open an supermarket in Schererville could help bring more upscale retailers to the region, said Mikah Pollak, an Indiana University Northwest assistant professor of economics. Stores that cater to affluent customers often follow each other's lead, and Whole Foods in particular is regarded for its demographics-crunching and site selection.

"They have a reputation of being at the vanguard of economic development," Pollak said.

The nerve center of region retail — the super-regional Southlake Mall in Hobart — reverted last year to being the Southlake Mall after an 11-year run as Westfield Southlake Mall, a name that few people liked and fewer used. Australia-based shopping center giant Westfield Group sold 1.3 million-square-foot mall and six other malls to an affiliate of Starwood Capital Group for $1.64 billion.

Starwood, a Connecticut-based private investment firm that also owns hotels and beach resorts, promised to bring fresh ideas and stripped the Westfield name from the sign on U.S. 30 a few days after closing the deal.

New stores have opened in the bustling retail trade area around the mall. Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores opened a new location at 1916 E. 80th Ave. in Merrillville Plaza. Weiss Entities planned to open a 16,000-square-foot super-sized Wise Guys Discount Liquors across the the mall. Owner and President Don Weiss said it would be more than five times as large as the current Wise Guys store in Hobart, and have at least three times as much selection.

New stores flocked to other retail areas, including where projects were delayed for years during the downtown. A developer revived plans to build a $12.5 million 100-room Hampton Inn in Oxbow Landing in Hammond, where Buffalo Wild Wings and Hammond Station and Brewery also are planned. WalMart announced plans to build a superstore next to the Cabela's on the other side of Kennedy Avenue.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, The Vitamin Shoppe, Massage Envy Spa and Physicians Urgent Care opened in an outlot of the 603,812-square-foot Highland Grove Shopping Center, one of the largest in Northwest Indiana.

Further south in Schererville, new retail projects really took off. Construction finally began on Schererville's Shops on Main lifestyle center, which was proposed in 2007 and then stalled during the Great Recession. Gordmans, Ross Dress for Less, HomeGoods, DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse and Whole Foods all announced they would move into the 350,000-square-foot retail center.

Planet Fitness moved into the Boulevard Square redevelopment of the former Menards building at 1000 U.S. 41, which developer Al Krygier planned to transform into a strip mall with "junior box stores" such as clothing and furniture shops. Albert’s Diamond Jewelers President Josh Halpern also planned to transform the area around the former Krispy Kreme at 320 Indianapolis Blvd. into a Shoppes on the Boulevard shopping center that would be home to as many as 11 new stores and restaurants.

Such developments are encouraging signs of the region's overall economic health, Pollak said.

Established retailers in Northwest Indiana fared well during the all-important holiday season. Nationally, shoppers spent $265.9 billion in November and December, an increase of 2.7 percent according to ShopperTrak. That increase beat analysts' expectations, and ShopperTrak believes retail sales will rise by 2.8 percent during the first three months of this year.

"We will continue to see the trend of steady sales increases as consumer confidence rises and the economy progresses," said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. "And, while foot traffic will continue to slow due to changing consumer patterns — with more shoppers purchasing online or researching products online before heading to stores — retailers must remember an overwhelming majority of all retail sales in the U.S. will occur in brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers who deliver a seamless customer experience both in the store and across all channels will emerge ahead of the rest."

Over the course of the year, household purchases rose by 0.5, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


The Times evolves, shows commitment to NWI

The Times evolves, shows commitment to NWI

MUNSTER | As the local and national media landscape has evolved, The Times Media Co. has shown its strong commitment to Northwest Indiana and upheld its reputation as a vanguard for innovation.

In the age of smartphones and tablets, The Times has expanded beyond the printed page to give accurate, up-to-the-minute information to its readers.

Online and mobile readership have been taking off. Mobile page views have more than doubled over the past year, and page views on surpassed 12 million for the first time in January.

"We are committed to providing our readers with the most timely, accurate news," said Times Publisher Chris White. "We know our audience holds us to the highest standard, and we strive to go above and beyond daily."

Mobile readership has been exploding, said Porter County General Manager Debbie Anselm. The company also had more than 2 million page views on its mobile site in January, as compared to less than 1 million in the previous January.

According to the most recent circulation numbers, The Times has shown continued stability during a time of contraction among many media companies.

The Times also has been reaching more readers through social media. In January, the number of readers who liked The Times Facebook page grew to 21,287, an increase of more than 14 percent.

"Our audience is changing as is the platform we use to provide our content," said Director of Audience Development Kim Bowers.

And the workload continues to grow with new and more challenging internal and external projects at NWI Headline Graphics, a full-service digital graphics shop affiliated with The Times.

In the past year, the media company saw changes in its leadership team. White, a leader with more than 20 years experience who has run newspapers in Ohio and Oklahoma, took the helm as publisher and John Tucker, a news industry veteran, came aboard as vice president of sales.

A Times-backed effort to unify the region has earned the media company a 2013 Community Leadership award from the Inland Press Association.

One Region was founded in 2008 and has 16 action initiatives covering areas such as health care, environment, education, veterans issues and public safety.

"We are pleased with this honor," Times Executive Editor William Nangle said. "However, One Region is a program we believe in and pursue, not for recognition but for the prospect of positive results benefiting the region."

Judges commended The Times for taking the lead in helping the three-county region in Northwest Indiana work together for the good of everyone in the area.

Its peers in the media industry also acknowledged the exemplary work of The Times in 2013. The media company earned multiple honors from associations including the Society of Professional Journalists' Indiana Professional chapter, the Hoosier State Press Association, the national chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Chicago Headline Club.

Further demonstrating the company's commitment to investing in Northwest Indiana, a new folder was installed at main press in 2013. The folder folds newspaper pages as they feed through the press during the printing process.

The Times is the only daily newspaper printed seven days a week in Northwest Indiana, and the purchase of the new folder, along with other capital investments over recent years, demonstrates its commitment to the region.

The Times Media Co. serves Northwest Indiana and Chicago's southeast suburbs in Illinois. The company publishes The Times, and specialty publications such as Shore and BusINess magazines.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


Home sales off to fast start this year

Home sales off to fast start this year

The Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors reported 2013 as being “a great year” for real estate with a 19 percent increase in units sold from 2012.

Peter Novak, GNIAR executive director, says that number was about 10 percent nationally.

Prices rose as well, with the median selling price 1.9 percent higher than the previous year. December also marked the 30th consecutive month the GNIAR reported growth in a year-over-year comparison.

Although Novak said the National Association of Realtor's economist is projecting sales will be similar this year, he doesn’t know if the group will see major growth like 2013.

Novak said a positive national and local trend is the number of foreclosures and short sales are decreasing. Nationally in 2010, about 40 percent of transactions were distressed sales. In 2014, it’s projected to be only 8 percent.

Melissa Osika, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Valparaiso, evenly divides her business between Lake and Porter counties and between buyers and sellers. The first three months of last year she referred all her business out because of a family illness. She ended up with about 30 closed transactions in 2013 while in 2012 she had 37.

"For not doing business for three months — if I look at it that way my business was better than the year before,” she says.

Osika says this year started with the busiest January she’s ever had.

“There is a lot of buyer activity right now in Lake and Porter counties,” she says.

Osika says a lot of her clients are first-time homebuyers who were either longtime renters or young couples who finally have their down payment money saved or have their credit where it needs to be and their family is growing.

She said at the end of December and the first part of January people were scared of how the Affordable Health Care Act was going to affect their monthly finances.

“There was a lot of uncertainty then, but I think people have sort of figured out how it’s going to affect them by now and they’re ready to move forward,” she says “And interest rates are still really good. I really foresee it to be a busy year and not just for me.”

Minakshi Ghuman, a Realtor with ReMax Pace Realty in Valparaiso, says “things are happening” in real estate.

“I really feel it’s not just something we are imagining,” she says. “It’s real. Overall it’s extremely busy and extremely positive.”

Ghuman says there has been a positive mindset among buyers and sellers. From the sellers point of view in some cases, there was a shortage of listings in certain price ranges and they were feeling good about getting plenty of showings. At the same time buyers were getting good rates.

“I had at least a couple of cases where sellers were being very reasonable in the sense that even though they might not get for their house what they might get if they held on longer — what they might lose on their house they would make up in buying because they would be getting such a good deal,” she says.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


Programs target region's health needs

Programs target region's health needs

When it comes to health, Indiana consistently falls among the lowest in the nation. A United Health Foundation report issued in December put the state at No. 41 for its overall health. 

Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer rank among the top concerns facing region residents.

A 2013 report called County Health Rankings — by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — showed Lake County ranked No. 81 in health of the state's 92 counties. Porter County ranked No. 20 and LaPorte at No. 69.

The report shows 26 percent of Lake County adults smoke, 18 percent drink excessively and 34 percent are obese. In Porter County, 22 percent of adults smoke, 18 percent drink excessively and 30 percent are obese, according to the report.

“Indiana, in general,is very unhealthy,” said Beth Wrobel, CEO of HealthLinc, a federally qualified health center.

Wrobel is a member of the local One Region health initiative called the Northwest Indiana Health Advisory Council, which comprises local health advocates.

The group in November hosted a health summit to identify local health problems and suggest ways to address them.

“Even things like awareness and getting people moving — if we start thinking about it as a community, I think it's going to make a difference,” she said.

Wrobel said the community should take a step back and look at the bigger picture of some of the health issues to analyze the reasons why the numbers are what they are.

“We can't continue going the way we are,” she said.

Local hospitals are playing a role in addressing the region's top health needs.

Julie Mantis, nurse manager of the diabetes center at Community Hospital, oversees diabetes education for outpatients and inpatients. The center also helps a growing number of patients manage pre-diabetes.

"That's where we're seeing the largest increase," she said.

With lifestyle changes, people can prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes, which makes up the majority of diabetes cases. Education focuses on setting and meeting reasonable goals. Those who already have Type 2 diabetes learn ways to control it.

"We can't cure it, but we can control it," Mantis said.

Controlling it can reduce the risk of complications down the lines, such as eye, kidney, heart and nerve problems, she said. 

Teresa Langley, oncology service line executive for the Cancer Care Center at Porter Regional Healthcare, relocated to Indiana from California last year and immediately noticed a need for screening, prevention and awareness for lung cancer.

A multidisciplinary team of physicians started looking at lung cancer diagnoses and the reasons behind them. One fact jumped out, she said.

"Our patients were not being diagnosed until the late stages," she said. "The mortality rate is much higher with the late stages, and the quality of life isn't there for those patients."

The team introduced lung cancer screening based on standard of care guidelines. 

"Our goal is to impact quality of life, improve standard of care and diagnose at an earlier stage," she said. 

As people age, they take a closer look at their lifestyle and recognize where they need to make changes, especially if they have difficulty breathing or exercising, Langley said. 

Smoking can lead to more than lung cancer. It affects the skin, digestive system and heart, among other functions, she said.

The screenings can help people realize the full impact of smoking.

"I think that's kind of where the light bulb is going on," she said.

Screening is also key for heart health.

Terri Gingerich, cardiovascular service line director at the Center for Cardiovascular Medicine at Porter Regional Hospital, said the center has been focusing on chronic complex diseases.

"When you look at cardiovascular disease nationally, the age of the population is older, and the size is bigger," she said. "Those two things together increase the risk of coronary artery disease, hypertension, arrhythmia, diabetes.

The center offers an $85 screening that does a head-to-toe check for cardiovascular disease risks.

"We're focusing much more on prevention and early identification," Gingerich said. "There's a direct correlation with cardiovascular disease and those who are overweight or obese."

People are educated about body mass index — called BMI — and learn about lifestyle and diet changes. Patients often know about the need for a healthy diet and exercise, but the center helps them apply it specifically to their life, Gingerich said.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am

NWI is home to high-tech equipment, procedures

NWI is home to high-tech equipment, procedures

High-tech medical equipment and cutting edge techniques are found beyond the boundaries of a metropolis like Chicago.

Surgical suites and physicians offices across Northwest Indiana offer a growing range of treatment options.

Franciscan Hammond Clinic's Department of Podiatry has started offering CelluTome, which gives patients a virtually painless method for skin grafting.

Franciscan St. Anthony Health - Crown Point's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit acquired the Cool Cap System, which fights birth hypoxia, when oxygen flow to a newborn's brain is impaired. The system provides selective cooling, while maintaining a safe body temperature and preventing permanent brain damage, according to the hospital.

The Crown Point hospital also began offering 3-D mammography through its Burrell Cancer Center. The screenings provide quicker, more accurate results while using lower radiation dosages than traditional mammograms.

“This state-of-the-art equipment is as good as it gets and is yet another reason patients don’t have to travel elsewhere for the best treatment,” said Miki McClain, breast center director of oncology services.

Four Franciscan Medical Specialists pulmonologists working at Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond began using electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy, or ENB. It uses virtual bronchoscopy and real time 3-D CT images to localize peripheral lung nodules.

The technology provides a minimally invasive and safer way to access lung lesions that are beyond the reach of traditional bronchoscopes, according to the hospital.

Methodist Hospitals has started offering deep brain stimulation, or DBS. The device is for patients with tremors or Parkinson's disease, said  CFO Matt Doyle.

An electrode is installed in the brain, and it functions the same way a pacemaker aids a person's heart.

Doyle said a Parkinson's patient developed a tremor so severe that brushing her teeth, eating and swallowing all became difficult. 

"She felt like she was confined in her room," he said.

The device was implanted in her brain, and now the tremors are controlled to a point that allows her to function in everyday life, Doyle said.

The hospital system also started using electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy and endobronchial ultrasound for lung care. 

The bronchoscopy involves inserting a probe in the lungs and pulling nodules in a specific way, as opposed to doing a more dangerous method of extraction, Doyle said.

The hospital system also is implementing a new software component that links to nursing homes and similar nonhospital care settings. It allows physicians to view medical records, place orders and do more off site.

"It's the next generation of tying the electronic medical record to the patient, more than to the facility," Doyle said.

Porter Regional Hospital introduced endoscopic ultrasound in late 2013, a technique that helps surgeons and oncologists with planning and staging cancer treatment. The local technology saves patients a trip to Chicago or Indianapolis for the procedure.

A wide bore MRI machine is now in use for patients at the Valparaiso Medical Center, said Nancy Babich, director of diagnostic imaging at Porter Regional Hospital.

It is wider than a traditional MRI but not considered an "open" MRI, she said. 

"Open has limitations," she said.

The wide bore machine has a bigger opening for claustrophobic and obese patients but has a better image quality than a traditional machine, Babich said.

The hospital also began using a new procedure called transanal hemorrhoidal dearterialization to treat patients with hemorrhoids. It offers a minimally invasive surgical approach to treating the source of hemorrhoids. 

Porter Regional Hospital and Portage Hospital also recently implemented a 30-minute service pledge for its emergency room. The pledge is that a clinical professional will initially see each patient within 30 minutes or less.

Community Healthcare System has implemented high-tech equipment over the last year as well, including endoscopic ultrasound at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago.

At Community Hospital in Munster, radiologists are using PET scans to detect amyloid plaque deposits on the brain, according to spokeswoman Elise Sims. 

"Information garnered from amyloid PET imaging aids in diagnosis and can play a pivotal role in the development of new treatment for Alzheimer's," she stated.

At St. Mary Medical Center, the Women's Diagnostics Centers are using breast tomosynthesis, or 3-D mammography, to identify and characterize breast structures without the confusion of overlapping tissues, according to Sims.

Images are used to produce thin slices that can be viewed as a 3-D reconstruction of the breast.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am

NIPSCO powers up for the future

NIPSCO powers up for the future

Northwest Indiana's lead energy supplier continues to focus on upgrades to build a sustainable future for region industry and homeowners.

In November, NIPSCO began operation of the first  "scrubber" installed at its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station, the first of $739 million in pollution control projects underway at electric generating stations.

The scrubber removes certain pollutants from smokestack emissions, bringing the company into compliance with stricter federal regulations that have led to the closure of coal-fired electric generating plants at other utilities.

“Improving air quality is important, and we have made substantial progress in recent years by diversifying our supply mix and investing in other environmental improvements,” said NIPSCO Chief Operating Officer Mike Finissi as the huge scrubber kicked into action. “We worked diligently to ensure that we completed the project safely, on time and in the most cost-effective way for our customers.”

NIPSCO has 712,000 natural gas customers and 457,000 electric customers in Northern Indiana. It is owned by Merrillville-headquartered NiSource Inc., a Fortune 500 energy company.

A second scrubber at Schahfer Generating Station is slated for completion in fall 2014. The utility expects to complete another scrubber project – at the Michigan City Generating Station – in 2016.

When those projects are completed, NIPSCO will have among the cleanest coal-fired electric generating stations in the state and nation.

In July, NIPSCO became the first utility in the state to take advantage of new legislation allowing utilities to undertake system-wide upgrades while increasing rates gradually to pay for them.

The utility filed a request with state regulators to undertake $1 billion in improving its electric system, including pole replacement and substation upgrades. Three months later, it filed a request to invest $713 million in its natural gas delivery system.

Other planned NIPSCO projects include two high-voltage transmission lines which will be a key link in getting wind power from the places where it is produced to where it is needed. NIPSCO's total investments in the projects will be between $550 million and $700 million.

In total, NIPSCO plans to invest $6 billion in projects, upgrades and improvements by the end of the decade, according to NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer.

Another Northwest Indiana energy supplier completed the largest private infrastructure project ever in the state in December.

The BP Whiting Refinery completed a $4.2 billion upgrade that will allow it to refine more Canadian crude oil, helping to move North America toward energy independence.

As many as 14,000 construction workers descended on the refinery during the multi-year project. It also includes hundreds of million dollars in state-of-the-art environmental equipment for water treatment and air emissions, according to BP Whiting Refinery manager Nick Spencer.

The refinery employs 1,900 workers and spends more than $3 billion annually with outside vendors in Indiana and Illinois.

To start the new year, region propane dealers worked to meet the challenge of a national shortage in the vital fuel, which 500,000 Hoosiers use to heat homes in winter.

Sending trucks as far away as Kansas and Texas, propane dealers reported they were able to keep customers supplied, many of whom have relied on them for generations.

"Basically, you go where there's gas," said Shawn Coady president at Hicksgas, with locations in Lowell and other Northwest Indiana communities. "We've been delivering for 75 years, and I'll do my best to make sure we continue to keep people supplied."

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


Trend in health care focuses on the home

Trend in health care focuses on the home

Parts of the Affordable Care Act focus on keeping people out of hospitals as a way to cut costs and to focus on patient care. That shift is putting more emphasis on areas like home-based care and transitional care.

"The main goal is to have people prepared when they go home," said Lisa Hopp, professor of nursing at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond and director of the Indiana Center for Evidence Based Nursing Practice.

Before, some patients sought hospitals for revolving door care. But that is costly.

"Hospitals are very expensive to operate," said Pat Bankston, associate dean at Indiana University School of Medicine Northwest and dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Indiana University Northwest in Gary.

If home health care providers can do the work instead, it cuts down on the expense, he said.

A large degree of pressure on hospitals now comes from the Affordable Care Act, demanding them to do better, Hopp said.

"Besides getting people insured, the Affordable Care Act has a legislative focus on patient-centeredness," she said. "Nurses have always felt that's what we do. We're patient-centered. It's written in our code of ethics."

Because of that, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, or PCORI, has been welcomed as a huge resource, Hopp said.

"In the brouhaha when legislation (for the Affordable Care Act) was being debated, PCORI was what the strident people were calling the death panel," she said.

In reality, the institute focuses on patient-centered care. Its mission statement states the organization, "helps people make informed health care decisions and improves health care delivery and outcomes by producing and promoting high integrity, evidence-based information that comes from research guided by patients, caregivers and the broader health care community."

It emphasizes the role of patients in their own health.

"They have to be integrated from the very beginning," Hopp said.

With lengths of hospital stays being appropriately shortened, people go home with their illnesses, such as heart failure and pulmonary disease. They need to know how to manage their health, and that often means relying on people who specialize in transitional care, Hopp said.

"You need a team of people," she said.

Home health care agencies are playing a bigger role, especially with technology allowing care that can be provided in home instead of in a hospital setting, said Linda Delunas, associate dean in the College of Health and Human Services at IUN, associate professor in the School of Nursing and adjunct associate professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine-Northwest.

One example is hospice care.

"Given the choice, people would rather die in their own home," Delunas said. "Hospice care provides support to do that."

And, it is a much less expensive option for patients who do not require high-tech hospital equipment, she said.

Hopp said many families who have used hospice for their dying loved ones are grateful.

"Hospice continues to be one of our bright spots in the health care system," she said. "Most people say, 'We should have done it earlier.'"

Another emphasis is on palliative care, which is different than hospice, Hopp said.

Palliative care is for patients who are seriously ill. The care uses a team approach to focus on relieving patients of symptoms and pain of serious illness.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am

Hospitals, universities fight doctor shortage through recruiting

Hospitals, universities fight doctor shortage through recruiting

With a looming doctor shortage, local hospitals are making efforts to attract and retain physicians, and local colleges and universities are adapting their programs to meet the needs of the area.

Having Chicago so close is a double-edged sword for recruiting, said Jim Kirchner, vice president of physician integration for Methodist Hospitals.

On one hand, local hospitals are competing against some of the finest  hospitals in the nation. On the other hand, Northwest Indiana has a lower cost of living and less expensive malpractice coverage while being close to Chicago's amenities, he said.

"For us, we try to use it to our advantage," he said.

Some doctors live and work in Northwest Indiana, while others live in Illinois and practice in Indiana.

An essential part in attracting physicians is finding a good fit.

"It's almost like a matchmaker," he said. "You want to make sure you're recruiting the right physician for the right opportunity. You don't want them to leave in 24 months. You need to work with them and find exactly what they're looking for."

Cheryl Harmon, chief financial officer for Porter Regional Hospital, said the hospital in its new facility and new location is in a growth position, which is part of the appeal for physicians.

"We spend a lot of time working on our quality indicators and certifications," she said. "If physicians know you're committed to quality and doing things for the community, they can be a part of it."

Physicians want to find a good fit.

"A lot of it is: Do we have the same vision as they have for how they want to practice?" Harmon asked.

Aside from competitive pay and benefits, physicians may be looking for a good school system for their children, safe neighborhood for their family or for high-tech equipment.

"Students coming out of training right now are used to some of the higher level technology," Kirchner said. "You don't want to have them taking a step back."

A physician with local ties is a plus, he said.

That goes hand-in-hand with efforts by area colleges and universities to recruit local residents as students and have them stay local to work.

"The premise is that it's well known that students who train in the area tend to stay in the area," said Pat Bankston, associate dean at Indiana University School of Medicine Northwest and dean of the College of Health and Human Services at IUN in Gary.

IUN offers a program to get high school students interested in studying medicine there. And, it has started hosting admissions interviews on campus, with the goal that physically bringing students to the Gary campus will influence their choice to study there, Bankston said.

Another retention strategy is to have the students develop professional relationships with the doctors they train with.

Bankston said he is optimistic the strategy will result in more locally trained people staying in the area after graduation to help meet the region's needs.

The university also offers programs in dental hygiene, social work, radiography, nursing and health information management, among other health-related paths, said Linda Delunas, associate dean in the College of Health and Human Services at IUN.

Many nursing students are from this area. Most are established locally and will continue to practice here, she said.

"We try to engage them early in service learning projects to develop a sense of community," Delunas said.

Purdue University Calumet in Hammond also offers programs in the health field, with nursing being one of the main paths.

"We've been at capacity, and we don't look for that to decline," said Lisa Hopp, professor of nursing at Purdue Calumet and director of the Indiana Center for Evidence Based Nursing Practice.

"One of the biggest challenges facing nursing education is faculty," she said.

As nursing professors retire, the challenge will be in recruiting instructors who are qualified to teach higher education, she said.

Pay is a factor.

"The competition is with the clinical environment," she said.

Cheryl Mioduski, enrollment manager for USF-Crown Point, said, along with students fresh out of high school, the school enrolls a lot of non-traditional students who are looking for a health care career.

"Our average age of student is 34," she said.  

The associate degree in science and nursing is the biggest of its health programs, Mioduski said.

One of the new programs was developed when Alverno Clinic expressed a need for lab technicians to replace those who retire.

In the fall, USF began offering a two-year associate degree for medical lab technicians, she said.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am

Manufacturers looking forward to improving conditions

Manufacturers looking forward to improving conditions

If the economy were a poker table, Northwest Indiana would be all in for manufacturing.

Heavy industry is 24 times more concentrated in Northwest Indiana than in the nation as a whole, said Micah Pollak, assistant professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest.

The industry is notorious cyclical: assembly lines roll at full speed and shifts work around the clock when the economy is humming, but factory parking lots empty out during downturns.

The region lost more than 5,000 manufacturing jobs during recession, and has since gained more than 3,000 of them back. Lear Corp. and Contract Services Group in Hammond added hundreds of jobs to keep up with bustling auto sales, which hit their highest level since 2007 last year.

Automakers sold about 15.6 million cars last year, and that has been a boon for the local steel mills that ring Lake Michigan's southern shore. They crank out much of the 15 million tons of flat-rolled steel that goes to the automotive market every year.

Shipments to the appliance industry — another major end market of local mills — rose by 21.4 percent last year, said Susan Zlajic, manager of government affairs at ArcelorMittal USA Inc.

Manufacturing surged to a tremendous 6.6 percent growth rate over the last five months, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Senior Economist William Strauss said. Heavy industry in the Midwest, especially the automotive and steelmaking sectors, has fared particularly well.

Local companies have been investing in their facilities. U.S. Steel just spent around $45 million on a blast furnace reline at Gary Works, and ArcelorMittal plans to do two months of maintenance to its No. 7 blast furnace at Indiana Harbor in East Chicago.

Demand is on the upswing. ArcelorMittal forecasts steel shipment will rise by 3 percent this year. Automakers also plan to ramp up production to 16.3 million units this year as the economy improves and more people replace older vehicles, said Tim Roper, owner of Smith Motors Auto Group, which operates Chevrolet dealerships in Hammond and Lowell.

Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch has been running at full capacity, and produced a record 175,000 Explorers last year, a 14 percent increase over 2012.

Region workers have benefited by way of bigger paychecks. Ford employees at the Southside factory and the Chicago Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights will get $8,800 in profit-sharing in March. Ford made $5.7 billion last year.

More take-home pay for factory workers has a ripple effect in the overall economy. More than 25 percent of earnings come from manufacturing, Pollak said.

Overall, the manufacturing industry has been gaining momentum. Economic activity in the sector grew nationally in January for the eight straight month, according to the Institute of Supply Management Report on Business.

New orders, production and employment all have been growing. Both the primary metals and fabricated metal products industries, which are concentrated in Northwest Indiana, reported continued growth.

National industrial production increased for the fifth consecutive month in December, rising by 0.3 percent, according to the Federal Reserve. Fourth quarter production surged by an annualized rate of 6.8 percent, marking the fastest growth rate since the second quarter of 2010.

Factory output rose by 0.4 percent in December, a 2.6 percent improvement over the same month in 2012.

Most manufacturers are optimistic the trend will continue, Berlin Metals President Roy Berlin said. They do not expect any dramatic rise, but are looking forward to steady, ongoing gains.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


Consultants help Northwest Indiana businesses reach higher

Consultants help Northwest Indiana businesses reach higher

Northwest Indiana is not only a great place to be a consultant but a place to partner with other consultants to deliver exceptional results to clients.

Andrea Proulx Buinicki, president of Valparaiso-based Giving Focus LLC, says there are more nonprofit organizations using consultants.

“It’s a great way to access specialized expertise for planning, hiring and training,” she says.

Buinicki says the recession caused nonprofits to think out of the box. Doing the same appeal, special event or campaign just wouldn’t cut it anymore.

“Those who changed their approach and mindset are starting to see the benefits now,” she says.

Giving Focus recently worked together with Crown Point-based Saqui Research to help a nonprofit refresh its mission and vision, write development and business plans, and develop measurable outcomes and tracking systems for its clients.

“The spirit of cooperation enables us to contribute to our client’s remarkable results, Buinicki says.

Buinicki says the true value of using a consultant lies in the lasting impact of the work, whether that’s a skills transfer to employees or volunteers, a solution that saves the organization money, a system to save time or a new focus that re energizes the team to build morale and get the job done.

“When you think about those returns, consultants are worth the investment,” she says.

Buinicki celebrated her third year in business in January.

“My clients are doing great work — hard work — and it’s a privilege to be a positive spark for growth,” she says. “I’m an activator and I love to motivate people to get focused on achieving a goal.”

Ursula Saqui, CEO of Saqui Research, believes for some businesses having a consultant is a flexible model they can use to supplement what they are currently doing in their organization.

“Instead of hiring a market researcher and having to pay a full-time salary and benefits, they’ll hire us instead because we can come in and we don’t require any training,” she says. “There might be a slight learning curve for us to get to know the content of their industry. But because we’ve worked across so many industries, it’s easy for us to get up to speed.”

Saqui says a businesses will bring in a consultant when it wants to grow, is in transition or needs a new strategy.

“The type of company that uses a consultant is one that’s very competitive and is really looking to grow and obtain more market share,” she says. “Those companies will put it in their budget because ... it makes them more resilient during down economic times. They want to have that competitive edge so when things go flat they're still agile enough to find those opportunities even if they’re a little scarcer.”

Al Turnbeaugh, of of Business Thinking Strategies, in DeMotte, has been a client of Saqui Research. A consultant himself, Turnbeaugh does business worldwide and “always want someone smarter than me on the job.”

“She has some expertise I don’t possess and it really gives me an affirmation that the project or people I’m working with are on the right track,” he says. “It gives me some actionable data I can give back to my clients and say this is what your audience is actually saying about this particular project or customer service or your product. It’s an objective third-party source.

“You can do your own survey but ... you want that extra set of eyes that don’t have an agenda to look at the data. They look at it objectively and that’s where it really becomes valuable.”

Saqui says hiring a consultant is a realistic and flexible alternative for businesses that need the expertise.

“The most important thing is for a business to look for a consultant that they feel comfortable with,” she says.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


National, state parks showcase history, nature

National, state parks showcase history, nature

Rafi Wilkenson has lived in Chicago and South Bend. It wasn't until recently he found what lies in between.

"When I first moved here, I only saw steel mills. Now I see sand dunes," said Wilkenson, who, with his family, recently settled in Beverly Shores.

Since moving here, Wilkenson said he's discovered both the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. He volunteers at the IDNL visitor center.

An avid hiker, Wilkenson said he's hiked every mile of the state park's trail system and is cataloging for future mapping and signage.

"I love the outdoors," he said, adding that Trail 9 at the state park is his favorite. He admits he's "hooked" on its vistas of sand dunes and Lake Michigan.

"We are blessed that it has not been touched since 1926," said Wilkenson, who has formed an informal group of hiking friends which once a month takes off on a park trail and explores.

The parks are wonderful, he said, because they are so close. for Wilkenson, it's no more than a 20-minute drive to reach Miller Woods, Mount Baldy or Pinhook Bog.

"You don't have to dedicate a weekend to go elsewhere. Its all here," said Wilkenson, adding he became a volunteers because he wanted to be a steward of the parks and make a difference.

While it's the outdoors that keeps Wilkenson enthralled with the parks, it's the history and the educational possibilities that keeps Porter resident Zella Olson coming back.

She began volunteering in 1981 at Chellberg Farm and serves as president of the Friends of Indiana Dunes which helps sponsor programs at both parks.

"They are very important for the children," she said about the parks.

"Some have never seen the lake when they come out here," she said, adding it thrills her to see the eyes of a child as she operates an old-fashioned apple peeler in the kitchen at Chellberg Farm.

Both Wilkenson and Olson agree the programming and events at the parks offer something for everyone who visits.

"They offer more programs than you could ever do," said Wilkenson, from a concert celebrating the summer solstice to learning how to prune trees properly at the Douglas Center to learning about birds which live or migrate through the region at the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Some 3 million people apparently agree with Wilkenson and Olson. That's about how many people visit the two parks during a year.

In 2010, the national park had some 2.1 million visitors, bringing about $63.5 millions in spending to the communities that call part of the national lakeshore their home, according to a study by the National Park Service. About 60 percent of the visitors come from outside the state.

March 16, 2014 12:00 am Photos


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