Whether it’s a trauma patient needing care for severe injuries or a person faced with the overwhelming cost of medicine and therapies, Franciscan Health is finding better ways to meet the Region’s most urgent medical needs.

A prime example of this innovation is the introduction of patient assistance coordinators embedded in the Pharmacotherapy Clinic at Franciscan Health Hammond and in several infusion centers.

Andrius Cepenas, manager of the Multi-Specialty Clinic and the Pharmacotherapy Clinic, said, “Our patient assistance coordinators primarily work with patients to either find ways to provide cost savings or to help them with paperwork for medication savings.”

Sun Lee-Such, administrative director of pharmacy services for Northern Indiana and South Suburban Chicago Division, said the seed money to hire the coordinators came from the federal 340B program, which requires pharmaceutical companies to provide discounted drug pricing if they participate in Medicare or Medicaid. This allows safety-net providers like Franciscan to stretch federal resources as far as possible.

“This is very unique and innovative,” Lee-Such said. “It’s helping patients continue with their therapy.”

Lee-Such pointed to the expense of infusion therapy.

“Some of the drugs can run tens of thousands of dollars,” she said. “A lot of patients are under-insured with high deductibles or co-pays.”

Patients at a high risk of readmission to the hospital are referred to the Pharmacotherapy Clinic. Cepenas said readmission rates for those patients have dropped each year the clinic has been open.

The savings also have added up. In the Pharmacotherapy Clinic alone, one coordinator working with patients since March 2016 has been able to save patients about $500,000. Additionally, every patient who receives care at Franciscan’s Hammond and Michigan City infusion clinics is screened to see if they benefit.

“It’s changing lives because these patients can’t afford medications, and we’re able to provide not only a means for them to have access to the medication, but also treating long-term medical conditions,” Cepenas said. “It’s very impactful, both personally and professionally just to see on a daily basis the gratitude that all the patients have.”

Helping patients beyond an isolated treatment or surgery is a key component of the care delivered by Franciscan Health facilities, including the Midwest Bariatric Institute at Franciscan Health Dyer.

Millie Sasaki, clinical nurse manager, said the comprehensive approach at the Midwest Bariatric Institute helps the program stand out and deliver better results for patients seeking weight-loss surgery.

“They so appreciate the approach the clinic has in regards to seeing a dietitian, seeing a psychologist, having the support afterward, because this is much more than a surgical event. It’s a lifestyle change, and you need support for those types of things,” Sasaki said.

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The Midwest Bariatric Institute recently doubled in size. It now has more exam rooms with specialized bariatric exam tables and a larger waiting room. A second surgeon, Dr. Richard Zhu, joins Dr. Gerald Cahill, highlighting an experienced team. A well-established support group allows patients to network and encourage each other on their weight-loss journeys.

At Franciscan Health Crown Point, front-line staff members are coming together to develop innovative protocols to better treat patients and save lives.

In 2017, a multi-disciplinary team participated in a four-day rapid improvement event focused on speeding treatment time for patients who show signs of sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. Out of this, a sepsis protocol was developed, followed by training and implementation.

“The protocol is really about being able to identify patients earlier who present with sepsis in the emergency department here in Crown Point — and making sure that once we have quickly identified them, we’re initiating that treatment as quickly as possible,” said Dana Mikaitis, business transformation specialist.

The program is credited with reducing the hospital’s sepsis mortality rate by 30 percent.

“It also reduced the cost of care and reduced the length of stay, specifically in our critical care units,” said Clinical Quality Specialist Peg Donnowitz, noting that “saving lives is the number one thing that motivates everybody.”

Another example of collaboration has been the development of a massive transfusion protocol under the guidance of Dr. Judy Lyzak, vice president medical affairs, and Trauma Coordinator Jennifer Homan.

In transfusions, blood is divided into components — red blood cells, platelets and plasma — to benefit the most people. Massive transfusion protocol “reconstitutes whole blood so we give everything back to you in the right ratio as fast as we possibly can and as fast as you need it,” Lyzak said.

The protocol defined a set of actions, responses and responsibilities that go from the lab to the treatment room.

“Because we have this, patients live,” Lyzak said.

Homan said that along with trauma patients, the protocol has benefited patients in the obstetrics department suffering maternal hemorrhage.

“We’ve seen more uses of the massive transfusion protocol in the OB population than the trauma population, which is something we weren’t anticipating.”

Franciscan Health is a leading nonprofit health-care provider and hospital company serving all parts of Northwest Indiana.