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Laurel Regional Hospital to expand focus on women's health

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Laurel Regional Hospital officials are in the development stage of a major project that focuses on tackling women's health issues in a big way. According to hospital officials, they hope to soon open a one-stop facility, separate from the main building, dedicated to comprehensive health care for area women.

"Women are the biggest health care consumers and a comprehensive center for their health care does not exist in Prince George's County," said John Spearman, Laurel Regional's president and chief operating officer. "We want to treat women as a whole patient and not just for one illness, such as diabetes, but for all of the problems they may face, in a single facility. Mercy [Hospital] in Baltimore treats the whole woman and we want to have a one-stop-shop as well."

The proposed center would have physicians and specialists of all disciplines under one roof. So, if a woman comes in for a blood pressure issue and is found to have a heart problem, she could see a cardiac specialist at the center, without having to make a follow up appointment or go elsewhere.

"There are protocols in cardiac care and we'd have to make sure those are not affected, but it would be able to be done in this new setting," Spearman said. "We will have to restructure protocols and guidelines to continue to meet standards of care required by each discipline but the care would be done in a coordinated manner."

The same would be the case for a woman with diabetes, who is usually seen by an endocrinologist but might require treatment for sores or other wounds associated with the disease.

"Some level of wound care will be in place but if that patient required hyperbaric therapy, they would go to our Wound Center. The same is true if a patient needed a high level of heart treatment. We would send them to the appropriate place," Spearman said.

All in one place

According to Spearman, female leaders in the county have called for a comprehensive women's health care center in the past and said a University of Maryland study confirmed the need for such a facility in the region.

Laurel Regional does have primary care providers and technology in place to treat women, such as a digital mammography machine used to perform mammograms, but some specialty services are limited and others are scattered throughout the hospital.

"The services are not coordinated around women's care and at times is so fragmented," said Dr. Trudy Hall, Laurel Regional's vice president of medical affairs. "They have to go here and here, causing them to sometimes choose to either get delayed care or no care. So, we want to create a center where once they get inside the walls of the building, they will get a comprehensive level of care in one place."

The multi-disciplinary approach to health care is practiced in shock trauma facilities and in many cancer treatment centers. Hall said the proposed center also would include preventive and wellness health care components to provide women with educational materials, seminars on nutrition, exercise, the importance of getting physicals and breast care information.

The high incidence of breast cancer in Prince George's County is one of the reasons hospital officials saw a need for a comprehensive health center for women. In the past five years, breast cancer deaths declined from nearly 900 in 2007 statewide to slightly more than 800 estimated for this year, according to local health department figures. Still, 4,700 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, down from nearly 4,900 five years ago.

"Breast cancer is huge in Prince George's and our community is multicultural with studies showing minority women being diagnosed later and the disease being more advanced," Hall said.

Obesity and diabetes are also major health problems in the county, with more than 100,000 diabetic cases diagnosed, according to health department figures.

"Diabetes is a big issue among women, but we're looking at not just treating diabetes but giving women information on preventive measures, seminars on how to eat appropriately and other ways to prevent this and other illnesses at the center," Spearman said.

Hospital officials said having a centralized facility for women to receive treatment for most ailments also would benefit those who neglect their health because of transportation limitations. Hall said this is sometimes an issue for county patients who have to go to Washington or Baltimore for specialty care.

"Many elderly women in Laurel can't go far because of limited transportation and will simply not go or miss a couple of appointments because they do not have anyone to take them," Hall said. "People are more likely to get the tests and other care they need if it's convenient."

In addition to women being the largest group of health consumers, more women are working and running their households solo, and Hall said many of these women are stressed and neglecting their health.

"They don't have time to do things to minimize the stress, which weakens their immunity," Hall said. "Our moms and grandmothers didn't have the stress we have because most of them stayed at home. With our home and work responsibilities, we don't always prioritize ourselves and our health falls through the cracks."

To help women deal with stress, depression and anxiety, the proposed center would offer mental health care services, another specialty care area where Hall said there is a shortage of practitioners in the area.

Plans for the center are still in the discussion stage, but for the short term, Spearman said a space will be created within the hospital for a comprehensive women's health care operation.

"Ob-gyn will be a leader in helping us set it up because they understand female care from a broad perspective," he said. "The separate facility will require negotiations but hopefully, within the next year, it will be in place."

The ambitious long-term plans for a separate facility will carry a big price tag. The hospital's Dec. 6 annual fundraising gala will provide a small portion of the costs for the proposed center. Hospital officials said the majority of the proposed facility's funding will come from the hospital's operational budget.

"We want to get this done and create a health care home for women where they feel comfortable, knowing they will get safe and comprehensive care from good physicians and specialists," Hall said. "I want this to be a place where I would bring my best friend or mother. It's going to be a lot of hard work to get it done but Laurel and Prince George's deserve it."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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