Program helps to keep hospital patients from being readmitted

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- One in four patients treated at a hospital will be right back in that hospital within 30 days of being released, according to officials at Forsyth Medical Center.

That’s the average, but only one in every 20 patients comes back at Forsyth Medical due to a program they’ve had for years.  The program helps patients navigate their own healthcare after they’ve left the doctor’s care.

73-year-old Ed Ross is a patient at Forsyth Medical Center with a weak heart that nearly killed him in March 2011.  However, he currently works a full-time job at Walmart.

“Staying active is a vital thing for us to keep doing,” Ed said.

His wife, Ellen, also works full time, but with a focus on her husband’s health.

“Even his daily medications, he has no clue really what he takes. He just takes whatever I lay out there for him,” Ellen said.

Ellen knows what Ed needs because of Dr. David Smull and his team of heart failure navigators with the medical center’s Heart Failure Program.

“This type of illness becomes overwhelming, and they can't just follow instructions,” Smull said.  “They really need a lot of support, and a lot of education.”

“Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” may work for a headache, but not for a heartbeat.

“They have multiple medications to take. They have to weigh every day. They have to take their blood pressure. They're almost becoming their own nurse,” said Mary Kathryn Wagner, a navigator with the program.

Wagner is always there to answer Ellen’s questions; and with medication, that keeps Ed alive and out of the hospital.

“We celebrated our 50th anniversary this year, and we didn't know we were going to be able to do that,” Ellen said.

New healthcare legislation will begin punishing hospitals in October for having to readmit too many patients.  All three major hospitals in the Piedmont have similar programs to help keep their patients from being readmitted.