The Wright Center Shares Tips for Stress Awareness Month

Below is a health column written by Dr. Aditi Sharma, a psychiatrist at The Wright Center for Community Health, in which she provides tips to reduce and/or cope with stress in everyday life.

We live in a world where many things can cause us great stress, whether it be things close to home (family, job, finances) or farther afield (politics, wars, global pandemics).

Yes, it’s a lot to cope with, and over time it can be incredibly detrimental to our health, both mentally and physically. So, I’m happy there are awareness campaigns like National Stress Awareness Month.

The annual observance focuses on combating the harmful effects of chronic stress. While stress is an unavoidable part of life and can be experienced in situations that are both positive and negative in prolonged form, it can lead to a variety of health issues, including fatigue, anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle tension, and, when it’s particularly serious, cardiovascular disease.

But with some focus, stress can be managed in relatively simple ways, allowing us to live happier, healthier lives.

Here are a few helpful stress-reduction tips you might consider:

Improve your diet: Eat whole foods, and curtail or completely eliminate stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.

Exercise: Increased exercise can lower your blood pressure, boost your endorphins and just make you feel a whole lot better, whether you join a gym or just go out for a walk or run a few times a week.

Sleep more: Lack of sleep and the ensuing fatigue can lead to a plunge in overall well-being and eventually lead to increased anxiety and depression, so it’s important to establish a calming vibe every night before you go to bed – and to curtail your screen time significantly.

Relax: In our go-go-go lives, simply taking time to relax can be difficult, but a daily regimen that includes meditation or mindfulness – or good, old-fashioned daydreaming – can substantially decrease stress levels.

Prioritize your schedule: Cramming too much stuff into a day inevitably causes stress, so check off the things that need to be done before pursuing the smaller-scale items.

Do something fun: Make time for enjoyable activities, such as hobbies, movies, concerts, dinners with friends, sporting events – really anything that puts you in a good mood.

Talk to someone: Sometimes, the best de-stressor is just talking about your problems with a trusted family member, friend, colleague, or licensed professional therapist.

Speaking of therapy, here at The Wright Center, stress prevention is a significant component of our behavioral health services for adults, children, and adolescents. Our first-rate team of experts can help you identify the causes of behavioral issues and provide solutions via comprehensive therapy services, psychological assessments, and psychiatric care. We also provide specialty services for children with severe mental illness as well as those who have experienced abuse or violence.

Managing chronic stress is also a core mission of our Lifestyle Medicine practice, which works with individuals and families to improve their health and quality of life through lifestyle modifications such as stress relief techniques, eliminating tobacco use, improving diet, increasing physical activity, strengthening personal relationships and connections, and adjusting sleep habits. Our team is trained in conventional and lifestyle medicine and can work with you to create a personalized lifestyle self-care plan that’s sustainable for the long haul.

I can confidently say that if you proactively work to reduce your stress levels, eventually, you’ll feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally. And you’ll improve your overall health – what could be better than that?

Aditi Sharma, M.D., MPH, is a psychiatrist at The Wright Center for Community Health Scranton Practice. An alumna of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education Psychiatry Residency, she treats adults experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, providing consultations and evaluations to develop personalized behavioral health and medicinal care plans.

Wright Center Gets AI Grant

The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education received a 2024 American Medical Association (AMA) Innovation Grant, one of only 14 medical teaching facilities nationwide to secure the prestigious $25,000 one-year education grant.

As part of the grant, The Wright Center will join the AMA’s ChangeMedEd Consortium — a forward-thinking group committed to developing, implementing, and disseminating bold and innovative projects that promote systemic change to better train future physicians. Grant recipients will focus on the application of precision education across the medical education continuum — from medical school and residency to continuing medical education.

The Wright Center’s project aims to make health care more personalized and equitable by leveraging data analysis and artificial intelligence (AI) to tailor, and thereby improve, how family medicine residents learn about population behavioral health, aligning with medical standards and correlating their performance with patient outcomes in a community health center setting.

There is potential for AI-enabled tools to support physician faculty in the education of resident and fellow trainees by analyzing performance and correlating it with practice and population health metrics. Ideally, the direct connection of trainee performance and these additional metrics will improve the education of physicians-in-training, which in turn will improve patients’ health, well-being, and experiences.

Project leads for The Wright Center for Community Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike, and its affiliated entity, The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, include Stephanie A. Gill, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician and Family Medicine Residency program director, and Meaghan Ruddy, Ph.D., senior vice president of enterprise wellness and resiliency, assessment and advancement, and chief strategic research & development officer.

“Through the integration of data analytics and artificial intelligence, there is opportunity to potentially revolutionize how family medicine residency faculty approach teaching interventions in behavioral health,” said Dr. Ruddy.  “By aligning with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education competencies and diving deeply into the social determinants of health, we aim to personalize education and assessment, ultimately improving patient outcomes. Our goal is not only to enhance individualized care but also to champion health equity through innovative, data-driven approaches in medical education.”

As one of the largest U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-funded Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education consortiums in the nation, The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, a physician-led nonprofit, offers comprehensive, community-focused residencies throughout Northeast Pennsylvania and the United States in three disciplines – family medicine, internal medicine, and physical medicine & rehabilitation, as well as fellowships in cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology, and geriatrics.

The residency and fellowship programs are accredited by the ACGME and train residents and fellows in a community-based, community-needs-responsive workforce development model to advance its shared mission with The Wright Center for Community Health to provide whole-person primary health services regardless of a patient’s insurance status, ZIP code, or ability to pay.

Since its inception in 2013, the AMA’s ChangeMedEd Initiative, formerly known as the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, has engaged dozens of U.S. medical education institutions in developing innovative strategies to revolutionize medical education and training. The objective is to equip a new generation of physicians with the skills necessary to deliver exceptional care tailored to evolving patient demographics. Its Innovation Grant Program has awarded $1.5 million in grants since 2018.

Additional 2024 Innovation Grant recipients include California University of Science and Medicine; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania; Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth; Michigan State University College of Human Medicine; Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; Oregon Health and Science University; Thomas Jefferson University Hospital; University of California, Irvine School of Medicine; University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix; University of Colorado School of Medicine; University of Virginia School of Medicine; Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; and Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Go to TheWrightCenter.org to learn more about how The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education’s physician workforce pipeline is educating and training the next generation of physicians and interprofessional providers.

The Wright Center for Patient & Community Engagement to Hold Charity Golf Tournament

The Wright Center for Patient & Community Engagement (PCE) will hold its second annual charity golf tournament on Monday, May 13 at the Glenmaura National Golf Club in Moosic to support patients throughout Northeast Pennsylvania.

The captain-and-crew Dr. William Waters Golf Tournament will feature a shotgun start at 10 a.m., following registration from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m. The driving range opens at 8:30 a.m. For more information visit TheWrightCenter.org/golf-tournament-2024.

The tournament is in honor of the late John P. Moses, Esq. a Wilkes-Barre native, influential attorney, and longtime philanthropist whose leadership was key in helping facilitate the establishment of The Wright Center for Community Health Wilkes-Barre Practice, the largest primary health center in the nonprofit’s network of 10 locations in Northeast Pennsylvania. The new Luzerne County location opened on Jan. 9, 2023, after the urgent relocation of its clinic from First Hospital in Kingston, amidst the hospital’s closure.

The Wright Center plans to name the Wilkes-Barre Practice building, at 169 N. Pennsylvania Ave., after Moses, who passed away on Oct. 31, 2022.

Moses’s son, Wilkes-Barre attorney Peter J. Moses, is honorary chair of the golf fundraiser. Co-chairs are: Linda Thomas-Hemak, M.D., FACP, FAAP, president and CEO of The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education; and Mary Marrara, co-chair of PCE and secretary of The Wright Center for Community Health Boards of Directors.

“Renowned for his dedicated and generous service to multiple nonprofits in Northeast Pennsylvania, and also on the national stage as CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, Attorney John Moses exemplified a remarkable life of integrity, generosity, and boundless dedication to making a difference,” said Dr. Thomas-Hemak.  “We are excited that our charity golf tournament will spotlight his tremendous legacy in business, educational, legal, and community enrichment efforts. His many meaningful contributions to the nonprofit sector can never be overstated. It is a privilege to raise resources in his honor to ensure everyone has equitable access to high-quality, whole-person primary health services, regardless of their insurance status, ZIP code, or ability to pay.”

PCE aims to improve the health of our communities through education, advocacy, and patient-centered services that help individuals overcome food insecurity, homelessness, and other factors known as the social and economic determinants of health (SDOH). Factors also include limited access to educational opportunities and a lack of financial resources. To address SDOH in regional communities, PCE’s team and volunteers hold community outreach activities, including nutritious food distributions of nonperishable items and fresh produce, coat and winterwear giveaways, back-to-school distributions of backpacks and classroom supplies, health fairs, blood drives, and other special mission-driven projects.

Last year’s inaugural charity golf tournament raised more than $40,000. The tournament is named after the late William M. Waters, Ph.D., who served as vice chair of The Wright Center for Community Health’s Board of Directors and co-chair of PCE. He passed away on July 21, 2022.

The entry fee for golfers is $275 or $1,100 for a foursome, which includes a golf cart, green fee, lunch, and beverage service on the course, followed by a 3 p.m. cocktail hour and 4 p.m. dinner.  Tickets for the dinner only are $100.

Prizes will be awarded for closest to the pin, longest drive, and hole-in-one, including a special prize for a hole-in-one on a designated hole: a 2024 Honda Accord LX, courtesy of Matt Burne Honda, an event sponsor. Other event sponsors are: Audacy; Community Bank, N.A.; and PNC.

Various sponsorship levels, starting at just $300, are available for the tournament. For sponsorship details and inquiries, please contact Holly Przasnyski, PCE board coordinator, at przasnyskih@TheWrightCenter.org or 570-209-3275.

The Wright Center Shares Obesity Weight Loss Story

Due to her weight, Julianna Morse limited her life.

She wouldn’t get on a bicycle and sometimes didn’t dare to step on a ladder. Even a trip with her children to the amusement park was daunting because of her struggle with obesity.

“Your biggest fear is you sit in the ride, and the safety restraint doesn’t close,” says Morse, who is raising two children. “And then you have to get up in front of all these people and get off the ride. Why would I set myself up to be embarrassed and to feel worse?”

The Forest City resident finally found the weight-loss support she needed at The Wright Center for Community Health – a provider of whole-person primary health services, including obesity medicine and lifestyle medicine.

She is now adjusting to a new normal: about 160 pounds lighter than a few years ago.

For Morse, 38, that means she has been learning to live – after a lifetime of apprehension about her body size – with greater freedom and fewer self-doubts. Her Wright Center care team, led by Dr. Jumee Barooah, helps to manage her thyroid levels and focus on maintaining a realistic target weight. She also turns to the team for nutritional advice and assistance with other physical and behavioral health issues.

“Honestly, I enjoy coming to The Wright Center,” she says. “I know they’re going to listen to me and they’re going to help.”

About three years ago, for example, Morse underwent bariatric surgery – a major procedure in which changes are made to the digestive system to promote weight loss. The decision didn’t come easily or quickly. She spoke with Dr. Barooah about her hesitancy, and the physician stood by her through a few false starts, referring Morse to first one, then another surgeon.

Morse refers to that surgery, which was performed by a Geisinger team, as a “tool,” not a magical cure, for her condition. That’s why she continues to work with The Wright Center’s health care providers for physical, emotional, and nutritional support.

“Weight management is a complicated thing,” says Morse. “People will tell you, ‘Oh, just watch what you eat and exercise.’ But it’s not that simple.”

Reshaping views on obesity

Obesity – often called the nation’s most prevalent chronic disease – is associated with several of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. Yet physicians and patients are sometimes hesitant to address the sensitive topic directly, and there is concern in the medical community that unconscious weight bias has too often prevented patients from receiving the proper care plans.

Fortunately, the medical community has begun to re-examine its approach to obesity.

The Wright Center, in an effort to best serve its patients with weight-related illnesses, now employs four board-certified obesity medicine physicians: Drs. Barooah, Linda Thomas-Hemak (who is also president and CEO of The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education), Manju Mary Thomas, and Nirali Patel.

These specially trained doctors consider the many complex, sometimes intertwined, factors that can contribute to excessive weight gain – genetic, environmental, behavioral, nutritional, etc. – and then develop a personalized weight-loss solution for each patient.

“By recognizing obesity as a multifactorial disease,” says Dr. Barooah, “today’s medical professionals are prepared to give patients the facts and the tools they need to take charge of their health and manage their condition.”

Since January 2021, more than 925 patients seen by The Wright Center’s obesity medicine-trained physicians have achieved weight loss. Collectively, these patients have dropped more than 16,000 pounds.

By reducing excess body fat, people will typically see cosmetic changes. More importantly, they will be on track to improving their overall well-being, reducing the risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and certain cancers.

“The good news,” according to the Mayo Clinic, “is that even modest weight loss can improve or prevent the health problems associated with obesity.”

For children and adolescents with obesity – who, in too many cases, get teased, bullied, or ostracized by their peers – treatment can improve not only their physical well-being but also their social and emotional development.

The disease puts young people at increased risk for anxiety, depression, and many other serious health issues, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Dr. Thomas, who is dually board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine, treats her young patients at The Wright Center by prescribing appropriate and compassionate care plans that work for the patient and their families.

“Through our team-based approach, we try to address all the underlying issues,” says Dr. Thomas. “It’s beneficial to act early because we realize that children who have obesity are more likely to carry the condition over into adulthood.”

‘Constantly being judged’

Morse knows all too well the scrutiny, and cruelty, faced by larger-than-average children. “I’ve always been heavy,” she says.

“When I was in sixth grade, they had me see a nutritionist,” recalls Morse, a Simpson native. “I would write down everything I ate during the week, and then every Friday, I would meet her at the nurse’s office and go over it with her.”

The one-on-one meetings during the school day were just another source of humiliation for a young girl already coping with her classmates’ ridicule and name-calling.

In addition to calorie counting, she tried many other weight-loss methods through the years: WeightWatchers as well as apps like My Fitness Pal, Noom, and Lose It! (She’s currently using the Carb Counter app.)

During a stint after college, Morse lost weight through an exercise regimen that involved going to the gym two hours a day, seven days a week. If she opted out of going to the gym one day, she’d walk seven or more miles instead.

But for Morse, each victory was short-lived. No matter what she tried, the weight would return when her schedule or priorities shifted because of parenthood, career, and life pressures. “You do good for a little bit, lose 20 pounds. Then all of a sudden, something happens, and, uh, you’re back up where you were before,” she says. “It’s just a see-saw effect, teetering all over.”

As her weight fluctuated, Morse experienced emotional highs and lows. Her inner voice has, at times, worked against her best interests, and she has often wrestled with nagging thoughts about how people perceive her abilities – and her very essence – simply because of her size.

“You feel,” says Morse, “as if you’re constantly being judged.”

Moving beyond old limits

At The Wright Center, Morse began routinely receiving medication in 2014 to control her thyroid. She continues to have her thyroid levels checked routinely.

She resisted the notion of surgery for a while, telling herself she should be able to control her weight purely with willpower. Now that she has had the procedure, Morse believes it was the correct option for her — not to imply that it made her life, or even her diet, perfect.

She still needs to be selective about foods and carefully chew each biteful to avoid digestive troubles. She began seeing a neurologist for help in controlling migraines. And she continues to sometimes cope with body dysmorphia, picturing herself as heavier than she really is.

The Wright Center team works closely with Morse, giving her the necessary care for each issue or, for certain matters, referring her to local experts. As Morse sees it, any form of obesity surgery – much like the suddenly popular new “weight-loss drugs” seen on social media – is only one part of a combination of tactics that must be used together to keep weight in check.

Her condition demands her ongoing attention. After all, she says, “I have 38 years of bad habits that are hard to break.”

Morse has seen and felt major improvements in the past few years because of the treatments and lifestyle changes she has embraced. “I can work 60 hours a week now and not feel like I got hit by a tractor-trailer,” she says.

Her improved stamina has also been apparent to her when hiking with her best friend in the Moosic Lakes area. No more huffing and puffing as she walks up hills, she says. Plus, last summer, the duo even paddled boats across the water – an experience that, until recently, would have seemed improbable because of her fear of getting stuck in an embarrassing situation.

“Before my weight loss,” says Morse, “you would have never caught me trying to get in a kayak.”

For information about obesity medicine and other whole-person primary health services available at The Wright Center for Community Health, visit TheWrightCenter.org.

Caption:

Lackawanna County native Julianna Morse, seen here during phases of her weight-loss journey, has dropped 160 pounds in recent years while getting medical, nutritional, and other support at The Wright Center for Community Health. ‘Weight management is a complicated thing,’ she says.

The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education Achieves 100% Match for Residency Programs

The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education welcomed 51 new resident physicians into its regional residency programs after achieving a 100% match on National Match Day for aspiring doctors.

The National Resident Matching Program’s Match Day is held annually on the third Friday of March. Medical students’ nation- and worldwide simultaneously learn at which U.S. residency program they will train for the next three to seven years. It is one of the most important and competitive processes in the medical school experience.

The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education looks forward to Match Day each year as it learns which medical school graduates will continue their training in its Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-accredited, comprehensive, and community-focused residency programs in Northeast Pennsylvania. The Wright Center is one of the largest Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-funded Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Consortiums in the country, with more than 245 physicians in training.

The Wright Center matched residents in the following regional programs: Family Medicine Residency (13); Internal Medicine Residency (33); and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Residency (5). Resident physicians will begin the first year of their residencies on July 1 in Scranton.

The incoming first-year residents hail from 13 countries: Bahrain (1); Canada (6); China (1); India (9); Nepal (3); Pakistan (12); Philippines (2); Saint Lucia (1); Saudi Arabia (1);  Serbia (1); Uganda (1); United Kingdom (1); and the United States (12).

The residency programs received 5,072 applications and interviewed 516 candidates, or about 10.17% of the applicants. The National Resident Matching Program makes residency matches, using a mathematical algorithm to pair graduating medical students with open training positions at teaching health centers, educational consortia, hospitals, and other institutions across the U.S. The model considers the top choices of both students and residency programs.

“Match Day is one of the most exciting days of the academic year and a celebration to welcome our new residents,” said Jumee Barooah, M.D., designated institutional official and senior vice president of education at The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. “For the residents, the day represents the culmination of years of hard work and perseverance that began at an early age. For The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education, it marks another milestone in meeting our mission to improve the health and welfare of our communities through inclusive and responsive health services and the sustainable renewal of an inspired, competent workforce that is privileged to serve.”

The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education was established in 1976 as the Scranton-Temple Residency Program, a community-based internal medicine residency. Today, The Wright Center is one of the nation’s largest HRSA-funded Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Safety-Net Consortiums. Together with consortium stakeholders, The Wright Center trains residents and fellows in a community-based, community-needs-responsive workforce development model to advance their shared mission to provide whole-person primary health services regardless of their insurance status, ZIP code, or ability to pay.

 The Wright Center offers ACGME accredited residencies in three disciplines – family medicine, internal medicine, and physical medicine & rehabilitation – as well as fellowships in cardiovascular disease, gastroenterology, and geriatrics.

 For information about The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, go to TheWrightCenter.org or call 570-866-3017.

The Wright Center Provides Resources to Treating Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Here in Northeast Pennsylvania, we continue to make notable strides in our fight against the ravages of drug and alcohol addiction. But it’s always good to have helpful awareness campaigns like National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, which will take place March 18-24 this year.

The annual observance was started in 2010 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which then joined forces with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2016. Every year, the week brings together scientists, students, educators, health care providers, and community partners to help advance the science and address youth drug and alcohol use in communities throughout the country.

I’m all for anything that provides young people – and people of all ages, really – with useful information about the dangers of addiction. In 2022, 110,000 people nationwide lost their lives due to opiate overdoses – with 70% of that total caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Pennsylvania, 5,146 deaths were attributed to overdose. The overdose death rates in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, for example, were higher than the state average, with fentanyl contributing to death in 78% of all fatal overdoses statewide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

It’s important for people to know about all the resources available here in the region so our communities and society can aggressively address addiction – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.

The Wright Center is among the local leaders in addiction and recovery services, thanks to our status as a Pennsylvania-designated Opioid Use Disorder Center of Excellence. Patients qualify for Center of Excellence care if they have an opioid use disorder, have co-occurring behavioral/substance abuse and physical health conditions, require assistance navigating the health care system, and need guidance to stay engaged in treatment as a means of avoiding relapse.

Our model views addiction as a lifelong disease that requires a long-term commitment to recovery. Unlike a traditional inpatient rehabilitation facility, we employ an outpatient services model that provides patients first-rate care while allowing them to attend to other life priorities.

It’s a “whole patient” philosophy centered around medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. The concept combines medical and social support, using medication to block the receptors in the brain that modern opiates are built to connect to, in the process eliminating the urges that those in recovery face.

Our patients are also connected to a dedicated team of recovery and behavioral health specialists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, certified recovery specialists, and medical providers who collaborate closely to counsel and support those with a variety of substance use disorders – opioids, alcohol, cocaine, and other addictive drugs and substances. We also help patients find stable housing, navigate insurance barriers, and repair family and community relationships.

Meanwhile, The Wright Center is among the community partners for the Healthy MOMS (Maternal Opiate Medical Support) initiative, which since 2018 has helped pregnant women and new mothers overcome addiction and embrace a life in recovery. Participants are offered blanket services that include MAT and addiction services, counseling, whole-person primary health services, OB-GYN care, parenting tips, legal advice, and other forms of support.

Based on the available evidence, mothers who join Healthy MOMS and participate in recovery services well before their delivery dates are less likely to give birth to babies who experience neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS, a potentially painful and costly medical condition caused when a newborn withdraws from opioids or other drugs that the baby had been exposed to in the womb. Many of our moms have said the program has given them a stronger sense of optimism and increased self-confidence. Several others have noted that it led them to want to obtain their GED and further pursue their education.

We’re very proud to be at the forefront of local drug and alcohol treatment services, and we’ll continue to work hard to ensure our patients are treated with dignity and compassion so they can ultimately lead happy, healthy lives. Together, we can fix our heads and our hearts.

William Dempsey, M.D., is deputy chief medical officer for The Wright Center for Community Health. As a board-certified family medicine physician, he provides comprehensive whole-person primary health services. Dr. Dempsey is also medication-assisted treatment-waivered to treat substance use disorder.

The Wright Center’s Recognized for Patient-Centered Care

Two of The Wright Center for Community Health’s primary and preventive care practices in Lackawanna County recently received commendations from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) for delivering high-quality, patient-centered care.

The Wright Center for Community Health Clarks Summit Practice, 1145 Northern Blvd., S. Abington Township, and The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice, 5 S. Washington Ave., Jermyn, each has again maintained certification for NCQA’s Patient-Centered Medical Home recognition, acknowledging that they have the tools, systems, and resources to provide patients with the right care at the right time.

Four Wright Center practices have retained the NCQA voluntary accreditation in recent months. Late last year, the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre practices were notified of their successful retainment of the recognition seal.

Every year, the practice locations undergo a formal review to ensure they remain in compliance with the Washington, D.C.-based organization’s high standards.

NCQA is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health care quality. Its Patient-Centered Medical Home program reflects the input of the American College of Physicians, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Osteopathic Association, and others. It was developed to assess whether clinician practices are functioning as medical homes and recognize them for these efforts.

The Patient-Centered Medical Home model is designed to allow patients and their care teams to build better relationships, help patients to more effectively control chronic conditions, and improve the overall patient experience. In addition, the model has been shown to increase staff satisfaction and reduce health care costs.

For the public, the NCQA accreditation is a signal that The Wright Center for Community Health maintains a focus on quality improvement and has key processes in place so its clinics are prioritizing the needs of patients.

“We are proud to retain this recognition seal at our four larger practices,” said Dr. Jignesh Sheth, chief medical and information officer of The Wright Center for Community Health. “The NCQA seal lets the public know we are doing all we can to put patients at the forefront of care, including by opening these clinics outside traditional business hours to meet people’s primary care needs.”

In particular, Dr. Sheth credited the work being done by The Wright Center’s employees to use a team-based delivery system and information technology to coordinate care and get the best results possible for patients.

The Mid Valley Practice’s certification carries an additional NCQA distinction in behavioral health integration. This recognition is for practices that have proven they have the appropriate care team in place to manage the broad needs of patients with conditions related to behavioral health.

“Many times, behavioral health conditions are first identified by a primary care provider,” said Margaret E. O’Kane, NCQA president. “So, adding behavioral health care services in a primary care setting is a real opportunity for patients. It knocks down barriers to behavioral care and improves overall health.”

The Wright Center operates 10 primary and preventive care practices in Northeast Pennsylvania, including a mobile medical and dental vehicle called Driving Better Health. Its practices offer integrated whole-person care, typically giving patients the convenience of going to a single location to access medical, dental, and behavioral health care, as well as community-based addiction treatment and recovery services.

The Wright Center accepts most major health insurance plans, including Medical Assistance (Medicaid), Medicare, and CHIP. No patient is turned away due to an inability to pay.

For more information about The Wright Center’s practice locations, hours, and many services, visit TheWrightCenter.org or call 570-230-0019.

Student Powers Up Wright Center’s Energy-saving Efforts

Rachel Huxhold arrived at The Wright Center for Community Health Wilkes-Barre Practice in early 2024 for a checkup of sorts, but her interest wasn’t in seeing a doctor.

Instead, she wanted to peer into the building’s maintenance closets and closed-door spaces where water heaters, heating/cooling units, and other devices work to keep the clinic functioning and comfortable – and consume energy.

Her aim: Uncover waste and promote conservation.

Huxhold, 30, is a student at the Harvard Extension School, pursuing a master’s degree in sustainability. She chose The Wright Center as the focus of her capstone project, offering to serve for free as a student consultant and develop a sustainability action plan that she intends to give to the nonprofit’s leadership team in April.

The plan, which she describes as “a road map or reference guide,” will recommend energy-saving strategies that can be implemented immediately, Huxhold said. The plan also will identify future opportunities for The Wright Center’s team to consider as it “thinks through how to operate more sustainably” and possibly looks to renewable energy alternatives.

“Energy usage is the main area we’re tackling,” explained Huxhold. “But I’m also looking at waste and water activity, how folks are using the building – really, a myriad of ways to be more environmentally conscious.”

The Wright Center demonstrated its growing commitment to sustainability in early 2023 when it hired Covington Township resident John Slater as its first environmental, social, and governance (ESG) specialist.

“The sustainability plan that Rachel prepares for us will have a tailored set of recommendations,” said Slater, who noted the project’s timing is ideal. Not only is it expected to be completed just as The Wright Center compiles its top ESG priorities (and metrics by which to measure them), but it also is unfolding as the government offers incentives to nonprofits through the Inflation Reduction Act and other legislation to make the transition to clean energy.

“The plan will be actionable for us because there are so many energy-conserving things out there to do,” Slater said.

The Wright Center’s leaders will be able to review the report’s suggestions this spring, then potentially make changes and start saving money that can be reinvested in patient care and services. But beyond lowering utility bills, there are likely to be other benefits. Chief among them is the ability of the health center to withstand severe weather events so that it can fulfill its role as an essential community provider and serve low-income patients of all ages even in challenging circumstances.

“It’s about resiliency,” said Huxhold. “As climate change progresses and we have stronger heat waves, more severe storms, things like that, there are definitely benefits to making sure the facilities are able to perform the functions that they need to in all kinds of more extreme conditions.”

For The Wright Center, there also can be a reputational benefit to being a sustainability leader among community health centers. As word spreads, its emphasis on conservation and climate awareness could serve as a drawing card for job seekers who prefer “green” organizations over those that seemingly remain ambivalent about the planet’s problems.

‘The perfect marriage’

To perform an energy audit of The Wright Center’s facilities, Huxhold first looked at the paper records, including utility bills and written descriptions of its building management systems. Then, she followed up with fieldwork.

Huxhold, a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, visited Northeast Pennsylvania in mid-January, touring the Mid Valley Practice in Jermyn and the Wilkes-Barre Practice. The two buildings are owned, not leased, by the organization, potentially allowing for recommended energy-conserving steps to be followed more easily and quickly.

Dennis Hand, director of facilities management, Michael Sobolewski, maintenance worker, and Slater accompanied the student consultant as she eyeballed the buildings’ heating/cooling systems, water heaters, and other equipment.

She peered over IT gadgets and looked at light fixtures. She checked for drafty doors and windows. She noted facility conditions (later commending The Wright Center for its upkeep) and asked plenty of questions of employees who use the buildings.

“We got a lot of positive feedback just walking around and telling folks what we were looking for,” said Huxhold, who is credentialed as a certified energy manager and a LEED green associate. “It felt as if everyone really saw the value and was excited about this type of work.”

At the outset of her capstone project, Huxhold had contacted the National Association of Community Health Centers in Bethesda, Maryland, asking for its guidance on narrowing the choices of potential project partners.

“The Wright Center was the first group they mentioned,” she said. “They explained that ESG work was an emergent priority for The Wright Center, and it wants to be a leader in the health care space for climate action. It seemed like the perfect marriage.”

Feeling the heat

Federal officials urge health care organizations to connect the dots between the environment and health. In 2021, the Biden administration established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity to examine how the environment impacts Americans’ health and to ramp up protection for people, “especially those experiencing a higher share of exposures and impacts,” according to the newly established office.

As part of the initiative, health centers, hospitals, and related groups nationwide are signing on to the Health Sector Climate Pledge, a voluntary commitment to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Wright Center will likely have a major opportunity to weave energy efficiency into its operations as it works to complete Phase III of the repurposing of its Wilkes-Barre site. Slater believes the health center will increasingly be able to highlight its actions, serving as an example and sharing lessons with patients and the broader community about conservation and the connection between climate and public health.

“A lot of people don’t think Pennsylvania is being impacted because they’re not seeing the large-scale weather disasters locally, all the damage,” Slater said.

But he frequently reminds people to think about the state’s recent string of relatively mild winters, last year’s wildfire-induced smoky air, and an increasing number of high heat index days (above 90 degrees) each summer. “Even though we’re not in an area that is feeling the impact excessively, like a New Orleans or a Miami,” said Slater, “it’s still something that is slowly showing its stripes.”

The Wright Center Achieves Gold Status for Advocacy Center

The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) recently recognized The Wright Centers for Community Health as a Gold Advocacy Center of Excellence (ACE) for the second time.

The Wright Center was first awarded Gold ACE status in January 2022 – the first community health center in Pennsylvania to achieve the recognition. Being awarded a second Gold ACE status, effective Dec. 19, 2023, shows The Wright Center’s continued dedication to advocating for and supporting community health centers that provide comprehensive primary and preventive health services to medically underserved populations in rural and urban areas.

“The Wright Center is honored to be recognized by NACHC for the second time with designation as a Community Health Center Gold Advocacy Center of Excellence,” said Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak, president and CEO of The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education. “We are very grateful and proud to be expanding our mission-driven advocacy efforts to ensure our elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels understand and commit to investing in the comprehensive, affordable, equitable, and innovative primary health services that The Wright Center and our community health center colleagues across our country provide to people of all ages, income levels, and insurance statuses.”

ACE levels recognize consistent engagement, success, and ongoing commitment to prioritizing advocacy. Community health centers that receive the designation are actively engaged with NACHC and forums addressing federal policy issues, as well as their state primary care association and platforms to address key state and local policy issues that impact the entities and their patients. NACHC awards three levels of ACES: bronze, silver, and gold. The status is valid for two years.

In order to earn ACE status, a community health center must complete a checklist of activities and accomplishments as outlined by NACHC. The Wright Center’s employees, for example, developed and wrote guest editorials that addressed important public health issues that affect community health centers and patients and hosted round table discussions with elected officials. Additionally, an in-house advocacy committee offers training, and the organization also hosts elected officials at its primary care practices.

“Earning Gold ACE status requires serious dedication and prioritization of advocacy,” Ky Rhee, M.D., MPP, president and CEO of NACHC, wrote in his letter congratulating officials at The Wright Center about the achievement. “Your organization is now part of an elite group that serves as an example to other community health centers striving to achieve advocacy excellence.”

Headquartered in Scranton, The Wright Center operates 10 primary and preventive care practices, including a mobile medical and dental vehicle called Driving Better Health, in Northeast Pennsylvania. Its practices offer integrated whole-person care, meaning patients typically have the convenience of going to a single location to access medical, dental, and behavioral health, as well as community-based addiction treatment and recovery services.

The Wright Center accepts most major health insurance plans, including Medical Assistance (Medicaid), Medicare, and CHIP. No patient is turned away due to an inability to pay. To make an appointment, go to TheWrightCenter.org or call 570-230-0019.

Wright Center Physician Receives Board Certification in Obesity Medicine

Dr. Nirali Patel, a board-certified internal medicine physician at The Wright Center for Community Health Scranton Practice, recently earned board certification in obesity medicine, increasing the number of physicians in the network who are prepared to better help patients manage obesity, its many comorbidities, and to lose weight. Patel is accepting adult patients at the primary care practice at 501 S. Washington Ave.

A Scranton resident, Patel is also a core faculty member for The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education’s Internal Medicine Residency program. She earned her medical degree from Medical University of Lublin, Poland, and completed her internal medicine residency and geriatrics fellowship training at The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education.

Obesity is one of the nation’s most prevalent chronic diseases and is associated with many of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. The condition is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, certain cancers, and many additional comorbidities. The certification from the American Board of Obesity Medicine gives physicians the insights and tools to help patients who are struggling with the complex issue of obesity.

Drs. Linda Thomas-Hemak, Jumee Barooah, and Manju Mary Thomas are also board-certified in obesity medicine and see patients at The Wright Center for Community Health Mid Valley Practice, 5 S. Washington Ave., Jermyn. In addition, Barooah accepts patients at the Scranton Practice.

For more information about The Wright Center for Community Health and its network of primary and preventive care practices in Northeast Pennsylvania, go to TheWrightCenter.org or call 570-230-0019.