Complementing traditional care

Hospitals: Two Harford County facilities offer the latest techniques in healing.

October 26, 2003|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

UPPER CHESAPEAKE Health hospitals are blending science and nature to provide the region's patients the latest trends in healing.

In 2001, the health care system began offering nontraditional healing methods called complementary medicine at its two hospitals, the 91-year-old Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

The transition toward incorporating the techniques, from guided imagery to massage therapy, occurred shortly after administrators replaced the aging Fallston General Hospital with the $60.6 million Bel Air facility three years ago.

According to Upper Chesapeake Senior Vice President Peggy Vaughan, officials chose new strategies that are proven to lower blood pressure and anxiety, as well as those that promote sleep -- all crucial factors to promote healing.

Complementary medicine blends conventional medical practice with other healing techniques that are purported to soothe the mind and body.

They can range from the use of herbal supplements and acupuncture, to the promotion of positive thinking, a strategy the Upper Chesapeake system uses.

Studies show that the use of complementary medicine is on the rise in the United States.

A series of Harvard Medical School studies reported that in the late 1990s, about 42 percent of the population had used such strategies and paid about $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs.

Health experts estimate that about 100 hospitals nationwide offer complementary medicine clinics and therapies.

The Upper Chesapeake system offers three new approaches: guided imagery, message therapy and a Nurturing Touch program.

With the guided imagery, a free service, a trained nurse leads a patient through sessions that teach patients how to redirect negative or anxiety-causing thoughts toward those with a positive outlook.

A change in mind-set, Upper Chesapeake spokeswoman Kim Lovett said, can promote relaxation and healing.

A 2002 Johns Hopkins study showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients who used the techniques were better able to deal with pain caused by the disease.

During the sessions at Upper Chesapeake, which can last two hours, patients listen to music and practice visualization, affirmation or prayer exercises.

Lovett said the therapy has been proven to decrease pain, stress and blood pressure.

It also has been shown to improve sleep quality and to alleviate allergy-related symptoms, she said.

The hospitals also offer massage services for patients and their family members.

"Touch is vital," Lovett said. It releases endorphins, which induce immune responses and create a sense of well-being, she said.

Any patient can receive a 30-minute service, which is offered privately in the patient's room, Lovett added. The massages are tailored to each individual's medical needs and cost $30.

However, in some cases, massage is an integral part of a patient's care plans and is free. New mothers at Upper Chesapeake's Family Birthplace routinely receive massages to ease their discomfort.

Knee- and hip-replacement patients at Harford Memorial also regularly get massages to relieve pain.

Patients' families, who endure the daily stress of caring for a sick loved one, also can opt for a message, Lovett added. The 15-minute chair massages, scheduled in advance, cost $15.

The hospitals' Nurturing Touch program builds on the benefits of touch therapy by combining the human reassurances of touch with companionship, Lovett added.

Trained volunteers visit people who might be lonely, stressed or agitated by their pain, Lovett explained.

The volunteers spend time with the patient, to chat, to pat a hand or a shoulder, she said.

"Sometimes it is something that simple that alleviates fears," she said.

Nurses at the hospitals streamline the appointment-making process for the patient -- a feature that reduces stress. Patients contact the team of nurses that cares for them, and they coordinate all the scheduling.

The health system plans to expand its work in complementary medicine.

The hospitals are looking into providing therapy involving pets and designing renovations that will "promote a healing environment," Lovett said.

Upper Chesapeake Health is a nonprofit health system that serves more than 310,000 residents in Harford County, western Cecil County and northern Baltimore County.

It is the largest private employer in the area with more that 2,000 staff members.

Harford Memorial Hospital and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center are acute-care facilities that offer medical, diagnostic and emergency services, and both are fully accredited by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

Upper Chesapeake Medical Center is at 500 Upper Chesapeake Drive in Bel Air. Information: 443-643-1000.

Harford Memorial Hospital is at 501 S. Union Ave. in Havre de Grace. Information: 443-843- 5000.

To schedule a massage at either hospital, call ScheduleFirst at 443-843-7000.

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