LVHN buys Venel Institute to expand educational capabilities 

Dr. Robert Barraco, chief academic officer for LVHN, shows off the lab at Venel Institute that will be used to train physicians, residents and fellows – PHOTO/CRIS COLLINGWOOD
Dr. Robert Barraco, chief academic officer for LVHN, shows off the lab at Venel Institute that will be used to train physicians, residents and fellows – PHOTO/CRIS COLLINGWOOD

Lehigh Valley Health Network has bought the Venel Institute in Bethlehem to expand its educational capabilities. 

Dr. Robert Barraco, trauma surgeon and chief academic officer for LVHN, showed off the anatomical research and educational facility Wednesday that will allow current physicians, residents and fellows to learn new procedures on cadavers.  

“This adds a whole new dimension to learning we haven’t had before,” Barraco said. “This gives us innovations in teaching that will make us the best we can be before practicing.” 

Barraco said LVHN is expanding its educational programs to address the critical staffing needs in the health care industry. The addition of the institute will also give the medical school access to more high technology and offer a variety of modalities and techniques. 

He explained that the use of cadavers gives practitioners real-life experience using new techniques and instrumentation before bringing the procedures to patients. 

The facility has a 60-seat auditorium for lectures, a small room for procedures and the lab, which has room for 15 tables for larger groups. The lab is equipped with video monitors so practitioners can see how procedures are to be done as they are learning.  

The Venel Institute, named for the “Father of Orthopedics” Dr. Jean-Andre Venel (1740-1791), will also offer outreach programs to high schools for students interested in a health care career. The institute has been offering programs to area high schools throughout its 13-year history. 

Barraco said Venel will complement LVHN’s new state-of-the-art Center for Healthcare Education in Center Valley which is slated to open next month.  

“This will really allow us to tailor the educational content and method to a group and its needs, whoever that group may be,” he said. 

Along with the Center for Healthcare Education, Venel could serve as a potential training ground and education facility for LVHN’s institutes, including Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute, Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute and Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence. 

Venel Institute will also be part of LVHN’s medical school program run in partnership with the University of South Florida (USF) Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa, which has about 56 students per year, he said.  

“Our partnership with the USF Morsani College of Medicine sets us apart, and the addition of Venel will enrich an already top-notch learning experience for our students,” Barraco said. “The addition of Venel will help make them as ready as they can be for their residencies.” 

LVHN offers bariatric surgery for teenagers

Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) is now offering bariatric surgery for teens ages 16 and 17.

LVHN is the first health network in the region to offer adolescent bariatric surgery. The program is in partnership with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital and Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence.

“We are proud to bring this state-of-the-art and transformative care closer to home,” said Brian Leader, director, Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence. “There is substantiated scientific evidence supporting the use of bariatric surgery to improve the health of adolescents.”

Obesity is a serious and complex health issue affecting millions of adolescents. For teens who have been unsuccessful at losing weight through traditional weight-loss measures or suffer from obesity-related health conditions, bariatric surgery is a safe, effective treatment toward developing a healthier and more active life, the network said in a press release.

Adolescents undergo bariatric surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest and are transferred for post-operative care to the Children’s Hospital’s pediatric unit on campus. All bariatric surgeries are conducted using robotic-assisted surgery, which results in less pain, fewer complications and quicker recovery.

Adolescents are typically recommended for gastric sleeve weight-loss surgery, which works by reducing the size of the stomach. Some teen patients benefit from gastric bypass (also called Roux-en-Y) surgery, the network said. This option, which restricts food intake and prevents the body from absorbing calories, also helps manage acid reflux. Bariatric surgeons work with patient families to choose the right option for their unique needs.

Both bariatric surgery options are proven to result in significant weight loss. They also resolve high blood pressure in 70 percent of patients and type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea in 80 percent.

“The primary focus of the adolescent bariatric program is improving the long-term health of teens struggling with obesity,” said Dr. Richard Boorse, with LVPG General, Bariatric and Trauma Surgery. “But the added benefits to self-esteem and life experiences are immeasurable.”

Health-related benefits may include:

Reverses weight-related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension and decreases the risk for Blount’s disease (tibia vera) and slipped capital femoral epiphysis (SCFE)

Often eliminates sleep apnea and reduces the risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Improves mobility and reduction in walking-related pain

Decreases risk for developing cardiovascular disease as an adult

Eligibility requirements for adolescent surgery include:

Body mass index (BMI) 40 or greater

BMI 35 or greater when accompanied by an obesity-related health condition

LVHN Weight Management Center utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to provide teens with the education and support needed to prepare for bariatric surgery, the network said. After enrolling in the program, teens and their families attend required pre-operative nutrition and counseling classes. Before the surgery, teens are required to commit to dietary changes. Following the procedure, teens will stay in Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, typically for two nights. The program then provides post-surgical weight management strategies addressing diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes.

Populytics receives accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance

Populytics, Inc., a Lehigh Valley population health management and data analytics firm and wholly owned subsidiary of Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), has been accredited in Wellness and Health Promotion by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).

NCQA accredits and certifies a wide range of health care organizations and manages the evolution of HEDIS, the performance measurement tool used by more than 90 percent of the nation’s health plans.

This Accreditation is directed to BeneFIT Corporate Wellness, the workplace wellness arm of Populytics, and is granted to organizations whose wellness and health promotion programs have met strict criteria for delivery and improvement. The BeneFIT program received NCQA’s 2-year Accreditation four times in a row (2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019). This year, the team earned the new 3-year Accreditation, which runs from Aug. 3, 2021, to Aug. 3, 2024.

“We have been working consistently over the last year to meet the needs of employers who have had to adapt to the demands brought about by the pandemic,” said Kristin Behler, director, Health Promotion and Wellness. “We’re quite proud of the fact that even under these circumstances, we were able to achieve the standards required by the Review Oversight Committee for NCQA 3-year accreditation. For us, it means that our commitment to professionalism has been a valuable investment and resulted in programs of the highest quality.”

In reviewing industry candidates, NCQA Wellness and Health Promotion evaluations use industry-leading, evidence-based standards to assess key areas of health promotion. These include how wellness programs are implemented in the workplace, how services like coaching empower participants to boost health, and how private health information is protected. Accredited status is especially useful in allowing employers to make informed comparisons when choosing among several wellness vendors.

Populytics’ BeneFIT Corporate Wellness programs range from individualized health coaching, health screenings, and incentive management, to specialty services like tobacco cessation (BeneQUIT) and cognition-based weight management (Worth the Weight). Many programs include online wellness portal access, consultative services, and reporting, and are available to all employers, regardless of the company’s size, health insurance provider or plan.

Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg is Level II trauma center

Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Muhlenberg’s Level II adult trauma center officially began operations Sept. 1

“Bringing a Level II trauma center to LVH–Muhlenberg, in the heart of the Lehigh Valley, means more trauma patients can get high-level care closer to home,” said Bob Begliomini, LVH–Muhlenberg president and senior vice president of operations for Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN). “It took planning, commitment and drive to meet exacting standards and show we could consistently operate under those standards.”

The accreditation was approved by the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation, the accrediting body for trauma centers in Pennsylvania, on July 16 and was effective Sept. 1.

“Trauma is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for those under 45. It comes without warning and swift, expert medical attention is critical to saving lives,” said Dr. Joseph Stirparo, trauma chief at LVH–Muhlenberg. “As medical professionals, as healers, we’re up to that task.”

A Level II adult trauma center provides multidisciplinary treatment and specialized resources for trauma patients but doesn’t require the research and surgical residency programs of a Level I adult trauma center, the highest trauma center level in Pennsylvania. Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest is a Level I adult trauma center.

In addition to LVH–Muhlenberg and LVH–Cedar Crest, LVHN’s other accredited trauma centers are LVH–Pocono (Level III) and LVH–Hazleton (Level IV), making LVHN the only health network in Pennsylvania to achieve all levels of adult trauma center accreditation.

LVH–Muhlenberg features a newly constructed helipad and dedicated trauma resuscitation rooms. It offers the following around the clock:

· In-house trauma surgeon coverage

· In-house operating room availability and anesthesia coverage

· Neurosurgical coverage with LVH–Muhlenberg dedicated providers

· Orthopedic trauma coverage

· Expanded surgical subspecialty services including plastic and hand surgery

Martin Till named president and CEO of HNL Lab Medicine

Martin K. Till has been named president and CEO of HNL Lab Medicine, replacing Matthew R. Sorrentino, who will retire Oct. 15.

Till, who was the former chair of the HNL Lab Medicine board of directors and served as vice chairman of the Lehigh Valley Health Network board of trustees, has resigned both board appointments upon assuming his new position as president and CEO of HNL Lab Medicine.

HNL Lab Machine, a laboratory medicine services company in Allentown, said in a press release that Sorrentino will continue as a consultant for the next year. The two have been working together on the fiscal year 2022 strategic plan to ensure a strong vision for growth.

Kathrine O’Brien, who was vice chair of the HNL Lab Medicine board with Till, is now the sole chair. A retired consumer marketing executive, she serves on the boards of directors at Lehigh Valley Health Network, Tabula Rasa Healthcare, Cosmetic Executive Women and AMAG Pharmaceuticals.

“Martin Till’s rich experience with the business, customers and internal teams at both HNL Lab Medicine, and with our largest partner LVHN, makes him the ideal next leader of this fast-growing company,” O’Brien said. “His entrepreneurial spirit combined with his 15 years of involvement in every facet of HNL Lab Medicine’s work prepare him well for the significant opportunities we have to contribute further to the health of people and communities in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.”

Sorrentino’s involvement with both HNL Lab Medicine and LVHN goes back nearly 25 years, including serving as outside counsel for both organizations and as LVHN’s senior vice president and chief legal officer.

As a founder of HNL Lab Medicine and throughout the years leading up to his becoming president and CEO in 2019, he played a key role in its reach – establishing more than 60 locations – and in making an ongoing impact in community health.

“Matt’s leadership, dedication and passion for HNL Lab Medicine have been exemplary, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when he led innovations and overcame supply shortages to ensure the company could meet the unprecedented needs of people and customers,” O’Brien said. “On behalf of the board and the teams at HNL Lab Medicine, we are grateful to Matt for his vision and execution in establishing HNL Lab Medicine as the regional leader in this highly competitive and dynamic business of laboratory medicine.”

Health networks try to balance increased demand with lack of caregivers

Health networks are looking at creative ways to support an increasing demand for mental health treatment at a time when healthcare workers are in short supply.

Some are using hybrid models of care that use partial inpatient treatment with outpatient support, some are increasing space for inpatient care, and most are using telemedicine to keep the lines of communication open between patients and caregivers.

Dr. Courtney Chellew, a psychiatrist at Lehigh Valley Phyicians Group-Muhlenberg, said there was a big increase in demand for care even prior to the pandemic. The demand has increased even more since the start of the pandemic. The problem, she said, “is there is a severe shortage of providers in the country right now.

“We are trying to look at ways to handle referrals to deliver outpatient and inpatient care in a timely manner,” she said.

Dr. James A. James III, vice chairman of psychiatry and behavioral health at St. Luke’s University Health Network, agreed. “We continue to hire exceptional people, but we can’t keep up with demand.”

Being pulled in two directions, employee shortage and increased demand for services, means patients may not get services as quickly as they would like, he said. They might sit in the emergency room longer than doctors would hope.

“We are trying to work with the ER to get interventions as soon as we can,” James said. In addition to arming emergency room staff with videos about depression, anxiety and other disorders that patients can view while waiting, James said SLUHN has hired a nurse navigator who develops care programs, connects patients with caregivers, follows up with patients to ensure they are taking prescribed medications, and finds ways to get patients help without inpatient stays.

Stephanie Lee, CEO, Tower Behavioral Health, said, “we are aware of the increased need for care.” The network has three adult inpatient units and one adolescent unit but between January and July of this year, demand has increased by more than 30 %, she said.

“Nearly half of our patients had to be deferred to get a bed. We stay in touch with them to make sure treatment is available once they are released,” said Dr. Eduardo Espiridion, chairman of Department of Psychiatry at Tower Health’s Reading Hospital.

Tower Health has a plan to grow to 144 beds in the behavioral health inpatient units. “We have to open slowly because of the need for support staff,” Lee said. “We started with 12 beds and now we have 80 open beds.” She said the beds in four of the six units planned are in use. The others will be opened in two units as soon as nurses, doctors and support staff are hired.

Dr. Rory Marraccini, vice chair of psychiatry at LVHN-Cedar Crest, said he works with primary care physicians to get patients treatment. LVHN is using virtual visits for consultations which, he said, helps those patients who have trouble getting to a facility for a variety of reasons.

“We are trying to hone in on consultant work. Where it may have traditionally been inpatient treatment, we now work with more outpatient programs,” he said, as long as there is no risk of harm to the patient or others.

Using a community outreach approach, Marraccini said, “we are able to offer good care and keep people out of inpatient treatment.”

Dr. Chellew added that LVHN is investing in psychiatric care. “It (demand) has grown so much; we are doing our best.”

To that end, LVHN has initiated a psychology residency program and psychology fellowships. “We may be able to keep the people that are in the programs,” she said. “With the fellowships, we can provide better services to teens and kids.”

Dr. Chellew said schools are an important resource. “We are integrating into schools to work with students, families and staff,” she said. Currently LVHN works with five local school districts. But the school closures were an issue.

“The students lost access to their caregivers, and, at the same time, virtual learning contributed to psychiatric symptoms,” she said.

Lee agreed. Students and adults alike had to deal with quarantine, job loss, loss of family members, and the children lost the peer-to-peer interaction schools gives them.

According to the Henry J. Keiser Family Foundation, a healthcare watch group, 39 % of children suffered academically, 36 % showed social and emotional stress and 26 % sought help for mental and behavioral issues due to the pandemic.

Lee said the high demand for services hit individuals with established care particularly hard because they lost their services. “These people need to keep up their treatments,” she said. “There were more hospitalizations, but many were limited to telecommunications.”

While teleconferencing can help, Lee said patients are isolated which can exasperate symptoms.

Dr. Marraccini said telecommunications have been key. “We are able to offer good care and keep people out of inpatient treatment by using this technology,” he said. The increase in patients with depression and anxiety will probably continue even when the pandemic subsides. “Sometimes symptoms don’t show up right away. The challenge is to be as creative as possible to deliver needed care.”

All the caregivers agreed that the pandemic has highlighted the need to talk about mental health issues and start to look at psychological illnesses the same way physical ailments are treated. “The more people that seek help, the more the stigma will go away,” Dr. Chellew said.

Dr. Vrablik named executive director at LVHN HealthWorks

Dr. Kevin A. Vrablik has assumed the role of executive director at HealthWorks, the occupational medicine program of Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), after retirement of longtime Executive Director Dr. Carmine J. Pellosie.

Dr. Vrablik is also chief, Division of Occupational Medicine in the Department of Medicine and Medical Director of Employee Health Services at LVHN. He continues the commitment to innovative service and quality that was the basis of HealthWorks since its inception, while being proactive as priorities change, according to a LVHN press release.

The pandemic brought a laser focus on occupational health in all phases of the business and educational sectors, with issues surrounding policy, testing, and vaccination. Concurrently, businesses are still navigating policy related to medical marijuana, which continues to change based on state-by-state legislation.

“Dr. Pellosie laid the groundwork for consistent, high-quality service over a 20+ year period that has been absolutely critical for employers,” says Dr. Vrablik. “The realm of workplace injury, illness, and substance use demands this kind of service every day, so employers can safely manage their business and their employees’ health. Add something like the pandemic, and you enter a whole different dimension of occupational health needs. Fortunately, we are expertly prepared for all of it.”

Dr. Vrablik oversees daily clinical operations, administrative duties, quality improvement, research, and the educational mission of LVHN’s division of occupational medicine. He partners with administrative colleagues in the strategic marketing, planning, and delivery of occupational medicine services to corporate and municipal clients and their employees in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas.

He also provides clinical oversight and leadership for all occupational medicine physicians and advanced practice clinicians across the LVHN network; participates on committees, teams and councils that support health, safety, and wellness; and monitors the business and regulatory environment pertaining to occupational medicine to provide a broad perspective for clients, according to the release.

Dr. Vrablik received his medical degree from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, and a master’s in public health from East Stroudsburg University, Department of Health Studies, East Stroudsburg.