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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

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TESTING TREATMENTS Stephenson Cancer Center in OKC offers clinical trials BY MEG WINGERTER Staff Writer mwingerter@oklahoman.com

Therapies that use the immune system to kill cancer have produced exciting results, but they still fail for more than half of patients. Researchers at Stephenson Cancer Center are trying to improve the odds through clinical trials testing new drugs and combinations, as well as figuring out why some patients benefit. Drugs normally go through three phases of trials before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers approving them. Phase 1 trials test if a drug or combination is safe. Later trials determine whether patients getting a drug in addition to standard care do better than those just getting the standard. Dr. Susanna Ulahannan, an oncologist who specializes in cancers of the digestive system and clinical trials, said about 50 Phase 1 trials were running at Stephenson as of February. More will open over the course of the year. The National Clinical Trials Network recognized Stephenson in March for treating more patients in trials than any other center in the country. In 2017, the center had 268 patients in trials, and 916 have participated since 2014. Some of the more exciting trials are testing immunotherapy drugs, Ulahannan said. Normally, the immune system finds and destroys abnormal or damaged cells, including cancer cells. When tumors form, they develop defenses that prevent the immune system from sensing the tumor. The goal of immunotherapy is to overcome those defenses, so the body can help fight the cancer. Existing immunotherapy drugs only work for a small subset of patients, though, and researchers are looking for ways to increase the number who benefit. Some patients at Stephenson are trying more than one immunotherapy drug at the same time, and others are receiving both immunotherapy and chemotherapy, Ulahannan said. In a perfect world, every patient would benefit, but learning more about those who don’t helps scientists to develop predictions, Ulahannan said. If they knew which patients would benefit, they could spare them from the side effects of treatment, and maybe steer those patients toward something more promising. “It’s useless to give (immunotherapy drugs) to the 80 percent that aren’t going to respond,” she said. Dr. Adam Asch, chief of the blood cancer section, said another exciting

From left, Dr. Adam Asch and Dr. Susanna Ulahannan are shown Feb. 16 at the Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City. Both doctors are involved with clinical trials designed to test new ways of treating cancer. [PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OKLAHOMAN]

development is CAR-T therapy. The treatment starts with extracting a patient’s T cells, a kind of immune cell. The T cells are shipped to a lab, where a virus reprograms them to attack cancer cells. An infusion drips the cells back into the patient, where hopefully, they start to attack the cancer. The cells have been nicknamed “serial killers,” because they can live and continue attacking cancer for years, Asch said. The FDA has approved CAR-T for patients who have relapsed from certain types of leukemia and lymphoma, but the center likely will offer trials for other types of cancer in the future, he said. “It is one of the more exciting novel therapies we’ve seen,” he said. Both types of treatment can cause the immune system to overreact and attack healthy tissue, however, though most CAR-T reactions aren’t life-threatening, Asch said. The risk of unpredictable side effects makes monitoring especially important in Phase 1 trials, Ulahannan said. Stephenson has a room set aside where patients in clinical trials are always in nurses’ line of sight, she said. CONVINCING SPONSORS Sarah Homan, oncology regulatory specialist at Stephenson, said

the trial area has a doctor and nurses on site as long as patients are there. Sometimes, that’s as late as 11 p.m., if a patient’s trial requires many blood draws to test for the correct dosage after the infusion, she said. Sometimes, multiple nurses need to work on one patient if the patient needs more than one test done at about the same time. “It just really varies from trial to trial, depending on what data’s already been collected,” she said. Clinical trials are somewhat competitive, because a sponsor may only have so many slots open, Homan said. Part of her job is to work with sponsors to convince them Stephenson is a good fit for their trials, because it has staff trained to handle the extensive clinical care and paperwork that comes with research, she said. “We have to make sure we’re running this trial the way it’s supposed to be run,” she said. The cancer center prioritizes trials through the National Cancer Institute, which receive extensive vetting, said Dr. Kathleen Moore, director of Phase 1 trials at Stephenson. They also sometimes conduct trials as part of research developed by scientists at the cancer center or the University of Oklahoma, she said. “We want to make sure

The Stephenson Cancer Center is Oklahoma’s only academic comprehensive cancer center. [PHOTO PROVIDED BY TSET]

we have really impactful trials open for all types of cancers and all scenarios,” she said. Patients in a stage one trial have cancer that defied standard treatment, and they generally use the drug until it

stops working, unless worrisome side effects develop. Trials always involve uncertainty, so open communication between doctor and patient is especially important, Ulahannan said. Doctors can

explain the risks, benefits and unknown information, but patients need to decide based on their own priorities, she said. “It has to be their decisions ultimately, because it’s their body, their treatment,” she said.


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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

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EARLY DETECTION OMRF’s latest study works to identify people at risk for lupus BY MATT PATTERSON Staff Writer mpatterson@oklahoman.com

Since its founding in 1946 one of the keys to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s success is the willingness to tackle new areas of research, especially when it comes to diseases that could use a little more study. Lupus, an autoimmune disease affecting up to 1.5 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of those. To that end, OMRF started the first-ever lupus prevention study in December 2017. The clinical trial, known as the SMILE trial, seeks to identify people at high risk for developing lupus and treat them with an immune modifying medication before they ever begin to show symptoms. When it comes to lupus, knowing sooner is better than knowing later. “Sometimes it takes years to really see the effects,” OMRF Vice President Dr. Judith James said. “If you have this process that’s happening, it can be going and you might have no idea until your kidneys start to shut down. If you know about the disease early, you can start the process of treating it before it does permanent damage.” Lupus primarily affects younger women, usu-

SOURCE: U.S. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE/NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH

ally about childbearing age. Symptoms include joint pain, rashes, allergic reactions to the sun, mouth sores and hair loss. Fatigue is another. Patients who have four of the 11 symptoms usually are classified as having full-blown lupus. There is a genetic component. James found that 11 percent of relatives diagnosed with lupus developed the disease themselves, which while not a majority, is statistically significant. James and her team will test participants in the trial for specific autoantibodies in the blood, followed by the use of test medication. SMILE is seeking new participants for the study who are at risk for developing lupus. It’s open to those who

have a positive ANA test. ANA tests detect antinuclear antibodies in the blood that attack the body’s own tissue instead of fighting off diseases and infections. Participants must also have at least one lupus symptom. James said the approach of identifying those who are at risk for the lupus can help manage it down the road. “It’s really hard to have a crystal ball,” she said. “There are people who are at high enough risk it might be a good idea to go ahead and start taking some medication. We might need to take a shorter course of bigger medications, or just modify diet.” The later in life a person is diagnosed the worse the

Dr. Judith James, at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, is leading a study that hopes to identify people who are at risk for lupus so they can begin treating the disease earlier before its effects become more dangerous. [PHOTO PROVIDED BY OMRF]

prognosis generally is. “If you get major organ involvement, we have to put you on major medications with a lot of side effects that can increase risk for heart disease,” she said. “Our hope is that if we can catch it early, the milder the medication can be used.” To participate in the trial or receive more information, call 405271-7221 or email Virginia-Roberts@omrf. org.

‘SKIN TELLS A STORY’ OKC dermatologist says patient care is better together BY MEG WINGERTER Staff Writer mwingerter@oklahoman.com

Five years after Dr. Renee Grau and a group of like-minded physicians formed the Saints Dermatology Center of Excellence, they can point to both physical growth and expanded service. Grau, who is the center’s medical director, started as a solo practitioner at St. Anthony Hospital. She said she and other dermatologists thought they could give better care together than alone. Instead of each provider trying to offer the full range of dermatology services alone, they each could develop a specialty and help with each other’s patients. “We could do better as a group,” she said. “Any dream or vision to make something better than what already exists needs a team.” For example, as a medical dermatologist, Grau uses medications and other therapies to treat people who have skin symptoms caused by inflammatory diseases, lupus or even lymphoma. Other dermatologists focus on surgery for people with skin cancers or nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, like injections and a type of facelift that uses ultrasound instead of a scalpel. They also recently added a registered nurse who works as a patient navigator, Grau said. Her duties include teaching patients about their medications and helping smooth insurance issues.

Renee Grau, medical director for Saints Dermatology poses for a photo March 1 at her office in Oklahoma City. [PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN]

Since the center opened on Broadway Extension five years ago, the group has added branch practices in Enid, Midwest City and Mustang. The original location has two surgery suites, exam rooms and a light therapy booth. The light booth uses only a small portion of the ultraviolet light spectrum, which allows it to help patients with conditions like psoriasis without the increased cancer risk that comes from a tanning bed. It also has a telemedicine room where rural patients can have a specialist look at their skin through video, but they see most patients in person, Grau said. “It’s not unusual to have someone drive two hours to come,” she said. The center treats skin cancer and a range of medical and cosmetic skin problems, such as

acne, birthmarks, cold sores, dandruff, hair disorders, excessive sweating, skin and nail infections, hives, moles, psoriasis, rosacea, skin tags, unwanted tattoos and warts. The dermatology team also works closely with other types of providers at St. Anthony’s and elsewhere, Grau said. A patient who has melanoma may also need to see an oncologist, for example, or the rash a patient seeks help with could reveal an infection or autoimmune disorder, she said. “The skin is interesting, in that it’s an ‘SOS’ to the world,” Grau said. “The skin tells a story, so you can tell a lot about a person from their hair, skin and nails.” Grau’s interest in the skin started unusually early. When she was in fifth grade, her father

was diagnosed with skin cancer. Seeing her father disconcerted and with a bandage on his face made an impression, and she wrote about cancer whenever she got to choose a project topic at school. He survived the skin cancer, but died of a heart attack while she was completing her medical residency. Now is a particularly exciting time to work in dermatology because of the rise of precision medicine — the idea of matching patients to treatments that are most likely to help them, Grau said. New biologic drugs produced in living cells also are offering more treatment options, she said. “Medicine is constantly changing, and if we don’t make it a goal and be intentional about getting better, we’ll fall behind,” she said.


SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

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‘A MATTER OF BALANCE’ How to set and meet your diet and exercise goals BY KEN RAYMOND Staff Writer kraymond@oklahoman.com

Every January, people resolve to eat better and exercise more. “This’ll be the year,” they think, but by February or March, most are back to their old habits. Let’s not call it failure; let’s call it recidivism. Karen Massey, a dietitian, and Deontae Mack, a personal trainer, are familiar with the story. They’ve seen it play it out before. And having seen it, they know how to get people back on track. You’ve deviated from your best intentions, but people like them can help you achieve success. DIET “Weight management is a lifelong journey,” Massey said recently. “The impetus may be a newfound health problem or maybe cosmetic. Either way, changing lifestyle habits is going to take some transitioning.” Start by writing down every item you eat and every activity you undertake over a period of a few days, she said. Seeing it in print makes it stick with you; the truth hurts sometimes. But don’t use it to beat yourself up; instead, use it to help you make a plan for where to go from here. Pat yourself on the back for the things you’re doing right, and pick out one or two areas where you could improve. Focus on them first. “Take an honest look at the food choices you are currently making,” she said. “Could I swap a soft

drink for water or a calorie-free beverage? Could I add a green salad to my supper?” Most people don’t realize how many calories they consume on an average day. There are other measurements that are equally important, such as counting carbs and avoiding sugar, but calories are the easiest thing to track via the internet, lifestyle apps and books that list the calories in a wide variety of foods. “Everyone experiences sticker shock,” Massey said. “Who would’ve thought that a big cheeseburger has 650 calories? The cheeseburger has 650 calories whether you know it or not. Knowing is better. You can then make a sound decision. … Moving toward a healthier diet is always about the big picture. It’s a matter of balance.” Managing calories is easier if you mostly eat fruits, vegetables, whole greens, lean protein foods and low-fat or nonfat dairy foods, she said. Nothing is entirely off limits; have an ice cream cone if you’re craving one, but make more healthful choices overall. Still, it’s best to plan ahead. Make a schedule of what to eat and when, then stick to it so you don’t give in to the temptation of fast food. Perhaps the best way to stay motivated is to focus on the reasons you want to make changes. Maybe you want to feel better physically, improve your physique, keep up with your grandchildren, live longer or improve your overall well-being.

Everyone has reasons to eat well. Remind yourself of those reasons when you’re deciding between that big cheeseburger and a grilled chicken breast. “Living a healthy lifestyle is really a series of small decisions,” Massey said. “One by one, the transition starts happening. Success begets success.” EXERCISE Starting an exercise program may be just as daunting as changing your diet, especially if you’re badly out of shape. Joining a gym can be expensive, and many of the weight machines can be bewildering (although gym staff will answer any of your questions). What should you do first? How hard should you push yourself? “The first thing I always tell people,” Mack said, “is that you didn’t put the weight on fast, and you’re not going to take it off fast.” In other words, don’t expect to see immediate returns. A safe amount of weight to lose is about one or two pounds a week. Mack is a trainer at the YMCA at 5520 N Independence, near Integris Baptist Medical Center. Personal trainers charge additional fees on top of a gym membership and may not be affordable for everyone, but they can help you tailor an exercise program around your particular level of fitness. The YMCA even offers classes for those who have had or are about to have bariatric weight loss

Karen Massey is an Oklahoma City dietitian. [PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN]

surgery. Two things Mack suggests: Set goals and be realistic. “Set a big goal, the outcome goal. If you want to lose 20 pounds, that’s your outcome goal,” he said. “It should be specific, relevant and achievable. Then you want to set process goals to help you along the way. To lose 10 pounds, you want to have a pro-

cess goal each week, like coming to the gym four days out of seven.” Next, find something you enjoy doing. Classes are popular because they are held at regularly occurring intervals and you get to work out with other people, making it more of a social experience. Not looking to make friends? Walk on a treadmill, climb on a stair stepper or use

free weights or weight machines. Vary the exercises you do. This helps to develop all-around fitness and keep you from getting bored. Eating a healthful diet and exercising are two of the most important things you can do to experience a better, longer life. All it takes is the will to get off the couch and do them.


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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

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PROGRESS REPORT Partnerships helped improve Oklahoma County health BY MEG WINGERTER Oklahoma City Energy FC players practice in 2016 before the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new community sports fields at the Northeast Regional Health and Wellness Campus, 2810 NE 63.

Staff Writer mwingerter@oklahoman.com

About five school bus loads of Oklahoma County residents got to live longer than they would have if the county’s health hadn’t improved, according to the Oklahoma CityCounty Health Department. Put another way, enough people avoided early deaths from cardiovascular disease alone that they could stretch the length of a football field if they all stood together holding hands. While clinical care was an important factor, county health officials said collaboration with the parks system, schools and the faith community all helped improve health. In Oklahoma County, the mortality rate has fallen about 4 percent since 2014, which is “excellent,” said Megan Holderness, administrator of epidemiology at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. The mortality rate gives a window into a community’s overall health by showing how many deaths might be preventable, considering the age of the population “It’s trending for the most part in the direction we want it to go,” Holderness said. “Ultimately, we want to improve health in our entire community.” The goal is to improve outcomes for all county residents, Holderness said, but the department focused on some highrisk areas in recent years. The department decided to build its northeast campus in the 73111 ZIP code after finding its residents had some of the worst outcomes in Oklahoma County, and partners have helped. The Oklahoma City Energy professional soccer team and other sponsors helped fund outdoor spaces for recreation, while University of Oklahoma Physicians helped meet the surrounding neighborhoods’ need for clinical care, Holderness said. The health department and OU Physicians split the cost of the physicians’ time. The OU Physicians’ partnership allows the department to better use its resources, since it doesn’t have to hire its own doctors to oversee midlevel providers, said Gary Raskob, chair of the department’s board. Patients who may need a higher level of care than the clinic can provide also have an easier time getting it from OU, he said. “It’s a more efficient way to do things,” he said. Clarence Hill, a member of the health equity work group in the Wellness Now Coalition, said churches and neighborhood groups also are important partners. On the most basic level, churches are good locations for health fairs, and their members are interested in meeting their

Life expectancy Through the hard work of community health programs and partnerships, OKC residents are realizing and increased quality of life.

[PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

Number of deaths (all cause mortality) prevented:

368 EQUALS: 5 SCHOOL BUSES FULL OF PEOPLE

neighbors’ needs, he said. Even more importantly, however, the partnerships give people in underserved communities a chance to be part of decisions that will affect them, Hill said. When many potential partners are in the room, they can put their resources together to meet needs in creative ways, he said. “We create spaces where people can build relationships,” he said. “They take that, and then they go back to their team and apply it.” Doug Kupper, parks and recreation director for Oklahoma County, said the parks department couldn’t assist directly on the northeast wellness campus, because it doesn’t have a campus there, but it will have a bigger role at the new health campus under construction at Southern Oaks Park. The park already has a recreation center with a gymnasium offering activities like indoor basketball, he said, and parks staff will be able to offer more options at the new health department building in the evening and on weekends.

Ideally, parents will be able to drop their kids off for sports at the rec center, while they try out yoga or the fitness room at the health department building, Kupper said. They also plan to partner with nearby Parmelee Elementary and the Southern Oaks Library to offer academic help for kids and classes for adults learning English, he said. “It’s kind of a one-ofa-kind situation with that many government agencies together,” he said. Mary Melon, president and CEO of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said many families in that neighborhood have difficulty reaching medical care, mental health services or other supports that can help improve their lives. “Having that campus located next door to Parmelee Elementary is going to be a game-changer for those kids and their families,” she said. Health department caseworkers already have set up in some schools in the district, and health educators offer wellness information to the students, Melon said.

Causes of death, 2017 Age-adjusted mortality rates for most major causes of death have fallen in Oklahoma County since 2014. While we all eventually die of something, a falling death rate means people are living longer, on average. Green arrows mean death rates fell, red arrows mean they rose and a yellow arrow means the change was too small to be sure it represented a real trend. Change from 2014 Outcome

Wellness Score

All cause mortality

4.1%

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality

5.1%

Stroke mortality

14%

Heart disease mortality

3.5%

Diabetes mortality

<1%

All cancer mortality

7.2%

Lung cancer mortality

5.6%

Breast cancer mortality

8.7%

Prostate cancer mortality

9.7%

Chronic lower respiratory disease mortality

2.3%

Unintentional injury mortality

7.8%

Suicide mortality

6.5%

Homicide mortality

9.6%

Alzheimer mortality

24.8%

Infant mortality

7.9%

SOURCE: OKLAHOMA COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT

That makes it easier for the health department to reach kids who need their services, which can help resolve problems that prevent kids from learning, she said. “If we can help these kids be healthier and have wellness be a part of their life, they will do better in school,” she said.

Number of deaths (cardiovascular disease) prevented:

142 FILLS ONE FOOTBALL FIELD LENGTH OF PEOPLE HOLDING HANDS

SOURCE: OKLAHOMA COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT


SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

GENERATIONS OF CARING Third-generation dentist carries on family tradition of compassionate, comprehensive care BY PAULA BURKES Business Writer pburkes@oklahoman.com

As a boy growing up in Oklahoma City, Derek Cohlmia rarely dined out at a restaurant that somebody didn’t approach his father, or his grandfather, to thank them for compassionate and comprehensive dental care extended to their family. Cohlmia spent many an afternoon hanging around his dad and grandpa’s northwest Oklahoma City office. “I saw the way they treated and respected people, and always looked up to them,” he said. Years later, as an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma, Cohlmia remembers a friend biting into a French fry at a Burger King in Adams Hall and breaking off her front tooth. “Naturally, she was embarrassed and in tears,” Cohlmia said. “But my family got her in for care the next morning.” A 2017 graduate of the OU College of Dentistry, Cohlmia, 28, is carrying on the commitment to exemplary dentistry passed down by his grandfather, Ray Cohlmia, 88, who retired three years ago after practicing 55 years, and father, Ray-

mond Cohlmia, 56, now dean of the dental school. Derek Cohlmia in July bought Family Dental Center — the former practice of Joe Fallin — which has offices at 4301 NW 63 and at 7405 NW 23 in Bethany. He employs six, including a hygienist, dental assistant, three office professionals and a part-time marketing director. All three Cohlmia dentists are Oklahoma-born. Derek’s great-grandparents emigrated from Lebanon in 1905. Family lore has it that Ray became a dentist because his mother told him to. He attended dental school at Baylor University; there was none at OU at the time. Derek’s mom, Sherry Harroz Cohlmia, jokes that her son inherited the dental gene. “He has great hand skills, and is good at the little tiny millimeter things,” she said, attributing his skill in part to his 10 years of piano lessons. The third-generation dentist said he pursued family dentistry because of the continuity of care. “It’s a cool profession,” Cohlmia said. “I can see a mom and daughter today, and then maybe that daughter and her daughter in years to come. You become part of your patients' families and grow up with them.”

Dr. Derek Cohlmia stands in his office in northwest Oklahoma City. [PHOTO BY DOUG HOKE, THE OKLAHOMAN]

It’s a cool profession. I can see a mom and daughter today, and then maybe that daughter and her daughter in years to come. You become part of your patients’ families and grow up with them. Dentist Derek Cohlmia

Regular, six-month dental cleanings and exams are imperative from age 2 on, Cohlmia said. Poor oral health can lead to permanent bone loss, lost teeth and heart disease, he said. Derek Cohlmia has two younger brothers —

Brandon, who’s a thirdyear OU dental student, and Joshua, who’s starting OU in the fall. He’s hopeful one or both will join his practice one day. From left, dentists Ray, Derek and Raymond Cohlmia. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

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‘BLESSING AFTER BLESSING’ Community workers help OKC and county patients manage their health BY JOSH DULANEY Staff Writer jdulaney@oklahoman.com

Between a box of Happy O’s cereal on his right and a Bible opened to the Book of Proverbs on his left, Jerry McCullough reclined on his couch, winced a little bit and offered an unnecessary apology. “Don’t mind me leaning back,” he said. “I’m trying to keep pressure off my leg.” On a recent Tuesday morning, McCullough, a 54-year-old resident of the Classen Senior Center, nursed his swollen right leg, the lower limb ravaged by cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that can spread rapidly and become life-threatening if not properly treated. At his aid was Elva Ramirez, a community health worker, patiently listening to McCullough’s concerns, asking him about his medications and offering to get him to the doctor. “How about transportation to the clinic?” she asked. “Are you going to need that also? Do you want me to help with the cab voucher?” Ramirez is part of the Community Health Worker Hospital program, a pilot project that began in 2015 through a partnership between the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, Mercy Hospital and IntegrisHealth systems. The program aims to help patients between the ages of 18 and 64 with two or more emergency room visits access the resources they need to manage and improve their health. As the program unfolded, financial data for 120 clients over the course of a year showed $480,000 in client cost savings for the hospital system, as community health workers linked their clients to care and community services. With regular client visits that include nutrition and medication checks, general assessments and offers of transportation to fill prescriptions, community health workers have been essential in helping prevent health conditions that can be physically and financial costly to vulnerable pop-

Client Jerry McCullough sits in the living room of his apartment and answers questions about his health during a assessment visit by community health workers Elva Ramirez and Samuel Rodriguez. The Oklahoma City-County Health Department makes community health workers available to clients with the goal of keeping people out of the hospital. [PHOTOS BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]

ulations. “Any time they are keeping them from returning to the emergency room, that’s a good thing,” said Tamara Braxton, community health supervisor. Mercy and Integris Southwest have integrated community health workers into their systems, and the health department, until the end of April, is piloting the integration of a community health worker in the St. Anthony Hospital system. For patients such as McCullough, sometimes the goal can be getting back to a routine, like going to church. “They’re doing a lot,” he said. “It’s highly appreciated. I thank God for blessing me. I need all the help I can get. I’m trying the best with what I have. Elva has been a tremendous help for me, ever since she came into my life. It’s been blessing after blessing. I’m very appreciative of all they do for me. And for what St. Anthony does for me.” Ramirez not only helps patients in their homes, but also in the streets. She’s assisted people liv-

Sometimes they call just to talk to someone. Whatever you need, call us. Samuel Rodriguez

ing in tents, and asked panhandlers when they’d be out and about so she can check on them. “I see everything,” she said. Ramirez hears everything, too. She and her partner, Samuel Rodriguez, receive calls from clients sharing their needs or simply chatting about their progress. “Sometimes they call just to talk to someone,” Rodriguez said. “Whatever you need, call us.” Indeed, the community health worker program has been one of encouragement as much as education, as clients can sometimes get down on themselves. As she left McCullough’s apartment, Ramirez reflected on her time helping him. “Jerry, as long as you don’t give up, I don’t give up,” she said.

Community health worker Elva Ramirez takes notes and reviews client Jerry McCullough’s medical history in the living room of McCullough’s apartment while he answers questions about his health during a assessment visit by community health workers Ramirez and Samuel Rodriguez.


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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

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It’s been a way to develop care models to engage patients before they get to the emergency room. Dr. Jeffrey Cruzan, a family medicine physician with Integris

‘KIND OF A FAMILY THING’ Integris finds success with ‘medical home’ concept BY MELISSA HOWELL Staff Writer mhowell@oklahoman.com

A new health care initiative that establishes medical teams to look after individual patients, is gaining ground at Oklahoma-based Integris health system. The initiative, called “patient-centered medical homes” fosters ongoing partnerships between patients and their personal clinicians, instead of approaching care in the context of sporadic office visits. Its goal is to combine teamwork and information technology to improve care, improve patients’ experience of care and reduce costs, say proponents of the concept. “Initially, the idea was to try to get patients more engaged with their care. Where we are now, we’re looking at the health care dollar spent, giving the idea a triple aim — better health, bet-

ter care and lower costs. It’s been a way to develop care models to engage patients before they get to the emergency room,” said Dr. Jeffrey Cruzan, a family medicine physician with Integris who participates in the medical home program. Many medical issues can be managed by a health coach, care coordinator or physical therapist if they team with a primary care physician, Cruzan said. “Each of those (health professionals) can provide care at the maximum level of their license. It’s much more cost-effective,” he said. Cost-effective, yes. But does it provide better care for patients? Yes, says Christopher F. Koller, speaking recently before a bipartisan Congressional Primary Care Caucus. Koller is president of the Milbank Memorial Fund, which partnered with the national Patient-Cen-

tered Primary Care Collaborative to determine the effectiveness of medical homes in 2016. “The question is not whether we have to transform primary care, but how,” Koller said. “The evidence continues to build that a high-performing, patient-centered medical home — especially when supported by multiple, committed and aligned payers — is the foundation for a better performing health care system.” Marilyn Jarvis, one of Cruzan’s patients, agrees. Three years ago, a care manager assigned to Jarvis called to urge her to get a mammogram. But she didn’t stop with one reminder. The care manager continued to call. “I was in a high-pressure job at the time. They could find someone else to do my job, so I put it off,” Jarvis said. “Finally, I got it scheduled. Within a week I was diagnosed

Dr. Jeffrey Cruzan is at the forefront of an Integris initiative that takes a patient-centered, team approach. [PHOTOS BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN]

with breast cancer. The good news is it was stage zero.” Jarvis had a lumpectomy, and as part of her medical home team, a home health nurse came to check on her. “Who knows how much longer I would have put it off if they

hadn’t reminded me,” Jarvis said. “I really do feel fortunate to have my health. I just appreciate Dr. Cruzan and his staff. It really is kind of a family thing.” Medical homes must earn a “Patient-Centered Medical Home” or PCMH designation from the

National Committee for Quality Assurance. To date, 16 Integris family care clinics have achieved PCMH status. The plan is to eventually expand the PatientCentered Medical Home initiative to include all Integris family care clinics statewide, Cruzan said.


SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

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Joyce Clark, left, visits inside the clubhouse with Rocky and Phyllis Clark at Whispering Creek, a center for active adults 55 and over. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

‘A COMMUNITY ASSET’ Trends are changing the way we look at assisted living BY MELISSA HOWELL Staff Writer mhowell@oklahoman.com

World demographics are changing as the elderly population in many countries continues to grow. With that expansion come changing needs and new markets for housing, medical care and assisted living. Joyce Clark, CEO and founder of Achievis Senior Living Associates, is a 20-year veteran in senior living and longterm care development and management. She sees every day how baby boomers are influencing the new assisted living developments and what the trends signal for aging in the 21st century. The Oklahoman spoke with Clark to get her perspective on how things are changing. Q:What will an assisted living center look like 20 years from now? A: Fewerpeople are

retiring with savings, pensions, long-term care insurance and financial resources. Future waves of residents will seek out affordable options, and assisted living will morph to meet that demand. I expect to see more eco-

nomic apartment floor plans, such astwo to four private bedrooms that share common spaces in one apartment. Perhaps private apartment units will be smaller or roommates will become more prevalent in Oklahoma as it is in other states. Oklahoma would save money if more people were accommodated in assisted living rather than nursing homes. I hope to see the Medicaid assisted living program grow and more choice offered to people who don’t need the 24-hour skilled nursing available in nursing homes. The pool of certified aides who provide personal care and medication administration in long-term care is shrinking. Assisted living communities are seeking new ways to attract and retain employees. Providers are striving to create job enrichment opportunities with a higher focus on meaningful and rewarding duties. I predict the future will hold more personal and professional growth opportunities, as well as increased wages and benefits for the assisted living workforce.

Joyce Clark, founder and CEO of Achievis Senior Living Associates, sees every day how baby boomers are influencing the “older adult” market for housing. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES PHOTO]

Q: How do today’s assisted living centers differ from those in the past? A: Twenty-five years

ago, many elders were cared for in small fiveperson homes, at intermediate care nursing centers or in extra bedrooms that homeowners converted for that purpose. The middle 1990s brought an explosion

of the assisted living industry in Oklahoma. The new “social” model of care was founded on private apartments and a philosophy of offering choices and more resident input into services that impacted them. The public loved this new option, and investors and providers responded. Assisted living communities became larger to

accommodate demand and to better cover the expenses of development and operations. Apartment sizes have been stretched and now offer increased closet and storage space. Apartment dimensions and the caliber of a building’s furnishings and amenities are typically the first things prospective residents evaluate. However, monthly fee charges and the quality of food choice, life-enrichment activities, transportation and personal care assistants are key factors in selecting an assisted living community. Today’s homes usually have more staff than in the past. There is a high load of paperwork to process for resident care and regulatory documentation. Competition has also enlarged the workforce and community amenities. Health and fitness programs and equipment, storm shelter, frequent outings, theater, beauty salon and private party rooms are common perks. Dining is evolving into more of a true restaurant-style experience with sizable menus and flexible dining hours. The days

of putting a plate of food in front of a resident at a designated time are ending. Q: What makes an assisted living center successful? A: Assisted living cen-

ters should be acommunity asset that improves people’s lives and offers solutions to their problems. Any home that puts people first will be successful. That philosophy incorporates employees as well as residents and their families. Fun, mutual respect, cooperation and communication factor into creating a culture where people want to live and work. Q: What’s next for you? A: I’d love to work

with a contractor to create a neighborhood for multigenerational living. Many more families now live with two or three generations in the same home. The demand for this type of housing is escalating. Reasons for this trend include cultural preferences, financial considerations, care needs of children or a parent and the added values and support inherent with the intergenerational lifestyle.


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‘IT’S A BLESSING’ Magazine program gets homeless off the streets BY SIALI SIAOSI Staff Writer ssiaosi@oklahoman.com

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Chazzi Davis worried he and his mother would be homeless before discovering a program through the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City. Rising rent where they lived became unaffordable, he said, and he feared they’d soon be left without a place to stay. Now, the two are in lowincome housing in Midtown as Davis sells copies of the Curbside Chronicle to the nearby community. Davis, 50, battles both mental illness and physical ailments that make it difficult for him to hold traditional jobs. He credits a former Curbside Chronicle vendor for helping him find the program, where those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless swap panhandling for selling the nonprofit’s magazines as they get back on their feet. “He told me, ‘If you need to get to work, get to work — don’t become homeless,’” Davis said. In addition to helping them find housing, the magazine connects participants to things like medical and educational resources, Director RanyaForgotson said. She said the program last year found housing for 41 vendors, ending 215 combined years of homelessness. It also was among four Oklahoma City organizations to earn $50,000 as part of the Google Impact Challenge, an initiative that seeks to grow local eco-

The Curbside Chronicle prints 10,000 magazines each month and can be purchased across the metro for a suggested $2 donation. For more information, go to thecurbsidechronicle. org. Address: 1724 NW 4, Oklahoma City. Phone: 405-415-8425.

nomic opportunity. Through the Curbside Chronicle, Davis found a therapist who helped him discover his love for photography. The creative outlet now gives him a way to manage his depression and bipolar disorder. Davis’ work has been bought for decoration and won an international award after it was featured as the cover of an issue of the magazine, he said. ‘IT FEELS GOOD’ The magazine lifted local vendor Alan Hudson out of a tough situation, as well. “Before I became homeless, I was in and out of jail,” he said. “It wasn’t going good at all.” Hudson, 23, details his struggles in a recent issue, where he describes his troubled childhood and criminal past. Now, after entering the program, Hudson said he’s regained confidence, pursuing a GED and —

Curbside Chronicle Magazine employee Alan Hudson gets a backpack from Director Ranya Forgotson on March 7 as he prepares to go out to sell new issues of the magazine while at the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City. [PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN]

most importantly — has a place to live. “It feels good to wake up in my own bed,” Hudson said. “It’s a blessing.” Similarly, the magazine helped Marquise Beddingfield reach stability. He was camping out in Oklahoma City making money in any way he could before becoming a magazine vendor, he said. Beddingfield, 23, said the patience he gained working for the Curbside Chronicle helps him at his current job doing asbestos abatement at the

downtown First National Center. He said the motivation to create a better life gave him the drive to work harder, something he learned as a vendor. “(The job selling the magazines) gives you an opportunity to help you find yourself and know what type of person you are. Without it, I’d probably have nothing,” Beddingfield said. ‘IT’S A POSITIVE THING’ Davis views his success at the Curbside Chronicle

as an opportunity to help others who still struggle. He said when he sees people panhandling, he’ll reach out and tell them about the perks of joining the program. “The community support is mind-blowing,” Davis said. “These people invest in the vendors. What you need, to their capacity, they’ll do it.” Something Davis enjoys most about being a vendor is the boost of dignity, respect and selfesteem. “People use to look at panhandlers and just

drive by,” Davis said. “Now, they’re chasing them down to buy a magazine. It’s a positive thing. “There’s no better feeling than somebody going out of their way just to talk to you.” Forgotson said shared experiences make current and former magazine vendors the best recruiters to the program. “Our vendors are very giving, very compassionate and as much a part of ending homelessness as our agency and our supporters.”

‘QUANTUM LEAP’ Medical examiner’s office gets a fresh start in new facility BY JOSH WALLACE Staff Writer jwallace@oklahoman.com

The Oklahoma medical examiner’s office has a new home being touted as a state-of-the-art facility with advancements found nowhere else. It was converted from the former Oklahoma City-County Health Department’s 63,000 square-foot office at NE 23 and Kelley Avenue. Dr. Eric Pfeifer, chief medical examiner, said a number of quality-of-life improvements have been made inside the building’s main autopsy room,

including custom-built tables, access to medical data displayed on large monitors at each station and some behind-thescenes equipment that sets the building apart from any other medical examiner’s office in the U.S. Among major features is a CT scanner only found in five similar facilities across the U.S. It allows operators to see details that might be missed by X-ray and could lead to a decrease in costs associated with autopsies of overdose victims. “This setup does not exist anywhere else in the

world. This is unique to Oklahoma,” said Dr. Eric Pfeifer, chief medical examiner. “This is pretty leading edge.” Originally drawn up on a napkin during a brainstorming session, the building’s layout and equipment have allowed for a more efficient work environment. After a tour last year, Gov. Mary Fallin praised the changes the agency has made, describing them as a “quantum leap.” “The new medical examiner’s office will allow Oklahoma to attract and retain top-flight

New addiction treatment facility is coming to Edmond FROM STAFF REPORTS EDMOND — Arcadia Trails, a new addiction treatment center, is being built on the campus of Integris Health Edmond with plans to open next spring. The facility aims to improve care for people whose primary diagnosis is a substance use disorder. Its program will be designed around a 90-day stay, with one year of follow-up care. The program includes fivephases,beginningwith evaluation, detox and education about the biological basis of addiction. The program then progresses through assessing one’s

strengths and challenges, learning coping and relationship skills, incorporating spirituality into life and planning ways to stay sober after discharge. About $26 million for the 40-bed facility has been raised from foundations and individual Oklahomans, said Kelly Dyer Fry, editor of The Oklahoman and vice president of news for The Oklahoman Media Company. She and Oklahoma lawyer Reggie Whitten; Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; and Dr. Murali Krishna, co-founder of the James L. Hall Center for Mind

Body and Spirit, have been working for at least six years toward building Arcadia Trails. Initially, a staff of about 25 people will include physicians, nurses, psychologists, therapists and support staff. The number of employees is expected to grow, along with the number of patients. The facility will include a conference center, which community groups could use for meetings or special events, Avilla Williams, presidentofIntegrisHealth Edmond, said at a recent groundbreaking. Staff also will offer educational sessions aimed at treatment providers or the general community, she said.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Eric Pfeifer stands in the autopsy room at the state medical examiner’s new central office. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

forensic physicians who want to work in a premier facility instead of the old, cramped and dilapidated

building that formerly housed the agency,” Fallin said. “This modern office space is a vital

step in winning back national accreditation for the medical examiner’s office.”


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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2018

THE OKLAHOMAN | NEWSOK.COM

Chris’ Express Drug owner and pharmacist Chris Phillips works to fill prescription at his store in south Oklahoma City. [PHOTOS BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN]

FRONT-LINE PROVIDER Pharmacist puts focus on customer relationships BY MELISSA HOWELL Staff Writer mhowell@oklahoman.com

A local pharmacy is breaking new ground by returning to an ages-old concept — old-fashioned customer service. In this day of huge retail chains, independent pharmacists often struggle to make a profit. But at Chris’ Express Drug in far south Oklahoma City, SW 119 and Pennsylvania Avenue, the reverse is true. Steady growth has the operation looking to expand. “One unique feature that draws customers to us is that we know their families,” store owner Chris Phillips said. “I grew up in south Oklahoma City. A lot of our initial customers were people that I’d known for 10 years. You know their likes and dislikes. Knowing people on a personal level makes customer service easy.” CONCENTRATION ON CARE Phillips thinks he has taken advantage of personal relationships with his customers and parlayed it into a business model that achieves a higher level of familiarity than his chain counterparts can deliver. And as a compounding pharmacy, Chris’ can offer a higher degree of flexibility, he said. “We meet something that the corporate market doesn’t offer. We are specifically designed for our immediate community,” said Phillips, who has owned Chris’ Express Drug for five years. “We spend a lot of time on our customers’ budgets, helping people design therapy around what they need and what they can afford. “We work with doctors quite a bit. We can say as pharmacists, here’s options A, B, C and D. We can contact your doctor to see what works best. Or, we can suggest an alternative that’s more affordable and just as effective.” And the experts agree. Because of their emphasis on personal relationships, community pharmacists are seen by many as frontline providers who can

make a positive impact on an ailing health care system. “Pharmacists can improve patients’ health and the health care delivery system if they are part of the patient’s health care team. … Patient care services provided by pharmacists can reduce fragmentation of care, lower health care costs, and improve health outcomes,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further, a 2010 study published in Science Daily found that patient health improves significantly when pharmacists work with doctors and other providers to manage patient care. “Chains have rigid systems. They’re designed for convenience, not customer service,” Phillips said. “Being the owner, I have the ability to ensure that customers are taken care of and happy when they leave. Having the primary decision maker in the store makes a big difference.” PERSONALIZED HOME DELIVERY And Phillips is taking on customer service in other ways. Chris’ Express Drugs currently delivers medications to its customers, but Phillips’ goal is to provide that service within an hour. “Later this year, we’ll start delivery within an hour. We have a free delivery system, but now when you have the flu, instead of going and waiting at the pharmacy, we want you to be able to leave the doctor’s office, go to your house and we will deliver Gatorade and chicken noodle soup and related medicine to your house within an hour. “If we can deliver what you need to your house with a pharmacist you know, I don’t think that big corporations can compete with that,” he said. A NEW HOME Phillips currently is building larger retail space that can accommodate more of what his customers want, he said. The new facility will be designed around quick in and out convenient

Customers have their prescriptions filled at Chris’ Express Drug in south Oklahoma City.

pickup. “Chains will put the pharmacy at the back of the store so you have to pass by other things you might buy,” Phillips said. “In the new store, the pharmacy is up front. We’re interested in selling prescriptions, and we want you to have a quick, easy visit to the pharmacy. This store is completely designed around what people have told me they want for years.” The new building also will have two drivethrough options that will provide physical access to a pharmacist. “We’ll have two windows that slide open instead of the bank system with a vacuum tube. You’ll will have a direct counter interaction while you’re in your car,” he said. For now, Phillips said he is working to improve online ordering and with his colleagues to develop a delivery app similar to pizza delivery. But in the end, it’s still about the basics of customer service. “We have a friendly atmosphere. We’re really good at greeting people and making them feel comfortable,” Phillips said. “While the corporate world seems to be growing, I believe service-based retail stores will make a comeback because people want that.”

Chris Phillips, owner of Chris’ Express Drug, says he has increased his customer base through personalized service.


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‘TRYING TO BUILD SOMETHING’ Team hopes to make OKC a pharmaceutical hub BY MEG WINGERTER Scott Rollins, president and CEO of pharmaceutical startup Tetherex, hopes a new drug could help make Oklahoma City into a place for bioscience innovation.

Staff Writer mwingerter@oklahoman.com

The team behind a drug development company that sold for hundreds of millions of dollars hope they have another winner — but say they want to keep it closer to home this time. Scott Rollins, president and CEO of pharmaceutical startup Tetherex, said the area has enough expertise to complete the process of testing and manufacturing a new drug, though a larger corporate partner would need to handle sales and distribution. The same team sold another company, Selexys, to pharmaceutical giant Novartis in 2016, which will manufacture a drug the Oklahoma City startup developed to treat sickle cell disease. “We’re trying to build something more sustainable” than just developing new drugs and handing them off, he said. “If we could get our hands on more (new drugs), we could keep doing this.” Potential jobs and ribbon-cuttings still are only dreams at this point, however. Drug development is a grueling process, and most potential medications fail somewhere along the way. Before the Food and Drug Administration will approve a drug, the company developing it must show that it is relatively safe and effective. No drug is totally safe or works for everyone, so

[PHOTO PROVIDED BY TETHEREX]

scientists at the FDA have to weigh the evidence. The new compound, with temporary name SelK2, is a monthly injection that could treat Crohn’s disease or deep vein thrombosis. In Crohn’s disease, the body attacks the intestines. Deep vein thrombosis involves blood clots, which can become lifethreatening if they travel to the lungs. The drug blocks one receptor on white blood cells, which allows it to “stick” to other cells and attack them, said Rodger McEver, vice president of research at the Oklahoma Medical Research

Foundation. His research helped yield the drug, and he has invested money in Tetherex. In theory, blocking this one receptor should stop the white blood cells from attacking healthy tissue, while still allowing the immune system to work— though trials will have to prove if that’s indeed the case, McEver said. Drugs meant to reduce inflammation generally have the unfortunate side effect of leaving patients vulnerable to infection and slow to heal after injury. “A hundred thousand years ago, we were all running away from wild animals, and we needed a

hair trigger for injury and infection,” he said. “Now, maybe we need to dampen that trigger because it can cause disease.” Because so many drugs fail in clinical trials, large pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to plow too much money into unproven concepts, said Scott Meacham, president and CEO of business-launching group Innovation to Enterprise. Startups fill in the space between labs doing basic research, which the government usually funds, and drugmakers committing to take a product to market, he said. “Typically, it’s up to the

private investors to show it’s safe and it works,” he said. If the drug works and the FDA agrees that its trade-offs are acceptable, the rewards could be great. Rollins estimated investors put up about $33 million for earlier startup, Selexys, to test a drug that treats pain caused by sickle cell anemia. Pharmaceutical giant Novartis bought Selexys for about $665 million in 2016, for a return of about $19 on every $1 invested. So far, Tetherex has raised more than $20 million to conduct studies, and could raise as much as $50 million, Rollins said.

Participants in the studies will receive standard care for their conditions, and half will receive the new drug. Comparing the two groups will show if patients benefit from the drug. Even if all goes well, Rollins estimated it would take five to six years before the drug becomes widely available. If the drug delivers, it would boost Oklahoma City’s profile as a place for bioscience innovation, Meacham said. “You can hopefully create a group or a nucleus of investors” interested in technology from local companies, he said. “Success begets success.”


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VISION OF SUCCESS OKC eye institute ranked among nation’s top ophthalmology programs BY MELISSA HOWELL Staff Writer mhowell@oklahoman.com

The ophthalmology program at Dean McGee Eye Institute at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center was ranked in the nation’s top five for visual problems, clinical care, teaching and research last fall by professional publication Ophthalmology Times. It is the first time the institute has been included in the ranking since it began in 1997. The rankings are based on interviews with leaders of ophthalmology programs across the country. Only the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami and the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University ranked higher. DMEI ranked No. 3 overall and No. 2 in the Best Clinical Care and Best Residency Program categories. It ranked No. 5 in Best Research Program. Also included in the overall ranking were the University of Iowa at fourth; Duke University Eye Center at fifth; Wills Eye Hospital — Thomas Jefferson University at sixth; Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary — Harvard University at seventh; W.K. Kellogg Eye Center — University of Michigan at eighth; Moran Eye Center — University of Utah at ninth; Stein & Doheny Eye Institute — University of California Los Angeles at 10th; Casey Eye Institute/ University of Oregon at

Gregory Skuta is president and CEO of the Dean McGee Eye Institute.

11th, and the Cole Eye Institute — Cleveland Clinic at 12th. “This ranking points to our growing national reputation for exceptional clinical care, outstanding educational opportunities, and leading-edge research. In large measure, this national recognition is a testament to the visionary leaders in the field of ophthalmology at the Dean McGee Eye Institute over the past four-plus decades. Most important, the national ranking speaks to the incredible work of our dedicated faculty, staff, and researchers,” said Dr. Gregory Skuta, president and CEO of the Dean McGee Eye Institute, Edward L. Gaylord Professor and Chair, and Regents’ Professor of the OU College of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology. Further illustrating the quality of Dean McGee ophthalmologists, Skuta said 100 percent recruited before 2013 have been listed among the Best

Dean A. McGee Eye Institute is at 606 Stanton L. Young Blvd. in Oklahoma City. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Doctors in America, Castle Connolly Top Doctors or both. “Our ambition has always been to assemble the finest physicians, create an environment to explore new boundaries of discovery, attract and teach aspiring students, residents, and fellows, and deliver excellent eye care to the people of Oklahoma and beyond,” Skuta said. In an interview with Ophthalmology Times, Skuta explained how work of Dr. R. Michael Siatkowski, vice chair and residency program director, has enhanced the DMEI educational experience and academic productivity. As DMEI’s director of vision

research, Dr. Robert Anderson has assembled a team of scientists that has transformed vision research in the institute and across the medical campus with far-reaching impact, Skuta said. Skuta also noted that four past or current members of the faculty have served as president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology from 2007 to 2017, including Skuta in 2014 and Dr. Cynthia A. Bradford, currently. “We have a national gem in DMEI in Oklahoma as underscored by this recent national recognition,” said David Rainbolt, Dean McGee Eye Institute board of trustees chair. “Our

physicians and researchers are tackling complex eye diseases while at the same time providing routine and specialty eye care to Oklahomans across the state, as well as throughout this region of the country. We congratulate Dr. Skuta and the excellent faculty, staff, and researchers at DMEI for this national honor in recognition of their tremendous efforts.” In 2011, the Dean McGee Eye Institute, at 606 Stanton L. Young Blvd., opened an expanded clinical and research center in Oklahoma City. The 148,000-square-foot center unified the clinical specialties and research

ONLINE Go online to Oklahoman.com to watch an interview about the institute’s ranking with Gregory Skuta, M.D., president and CEO of the Dean McGee Eye Institute.

disciplines in one facility. In recent years the institute expanded its international eye-care program with a focus on China and Africa. The research program is a leader in funding from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health and from Research to Prevent Blindness.


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A new four-story building on the campus of The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany will enable it to care for more patients. [PHOTOS BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN]

MORE ROOM TO CARE Expansion raises capacity at The Children’s Center in Bethany BY MELISSA HOWELL Staff Writer mhowell@oklahoman.com

A new four-story building on the campus of The Children’s Center in Bethany, will enable the pediatric rehabilitation hospital to care for an estimated 4,300 children and teens annually. The only hospital of its kind in Oklahoma, The Children’s Center serves patients who have complex medical needs from birth defects or complications, traumatic accidents or illnesses. It also provides rehabilitation from a traumatic or congenital injury, sudden illness or post-surgery treatment, as well as other outpatient services. The new 100,000-square-foot patient bed tower accomplishes several goals for the hospital including added capacity, private rooms and consolidated space for outpatient services. Construction began on the facility in September 2015 and was completed in August. Currently, 650 employees work at the tower, but, when it becomes fully operational, administrators expect to have between 750-800 employees. “We give families a transition of care from hospital to home. We’re kind of a middle man,” said Director of Nursing Kyle Leemaster, who supervises a staff of 300 nurses. “A big part of our mission is to optimize the potential of every child. This gives us more room to do that.” PRIVATE ROOM FLEXIBILITY For the first time in the hospital’s history, there are 24 private rooms for families who will stay with their child and for when those children need low-sensory environments. “All our rooms were semiprivate before. Now we have 12 private rooms on the third floor and 12 on the fourth,” said Lori Boyd, chief operating officer for The Children’s Center. “This allows us to take children who aren’t quite ready for acute rehab. For children

This is an entrance into The Children’s Center new building in Bethany.

The main lobby in The Children’s Center new building in Bethany.

This is a private patient room in The Children’s Center new building.

A rehabilitation room in The Children’s Center new building.

A private patient room in The Children’s Center new building.

who have a traumatic brain injury, they may not need to be in (the) hospital, but aren’t quite ready to do three and four hours of therapy because they need to be in a lowsensory environment.” OUTPATIENT TREATMENT The second floor of the patient bed tower houses outpatient services, which formerly were located in three areas. Consolidation of outpatient services gives families easy access to the hospital’s pediatric specialists, Boyd said. Services include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech ther-

apy, nutrition therapy, equipment evaluations, serial casting, and augmentive and alternative communication evaluations. Also included are pediatric physiatry and neuropsychiatric programs, pediatric orthopedic and home ventilator clinics. Along with more capacity, the new tower also will house a neonatal abstinence program for babies born at area hospitals with a drug addiction. The unit can help an infant complete the weaning process, Boyd said. It also features added conference space that doubles at safe rooms and a four-story parking

The patient activity room in The Children’s Center new building.

garage with 347 parking spaces. A NEW ‘LIFE’ SPACE Next on the horizon, Boyd said the hospital is planning to refurbish an older building to give its young patients an opportunity to learn to navigate everyday situations. “It will have differ-

ent spaces in it so that kids can practice daily activities,” Boyd said. “It will contain parts of a house so that kids can practice stairs, walking on different carpets. It will have a track inside so that they can walk on different surfaces like pea gravel and brick. And there will be a dance classroom.

“There also will be a cafe so that they can practice getting in and out of a booth and get used to the different sounds that go on. And a half-court basketball gym, so that kids who are used to playing basketball can get back into that and into activities that have been a normal part of their life,” she said.


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