Wheeling Hospital physicians say screenings are working

WHEELING — Citing improved health rankings for Ohio and Marshall counties, Wheeling Hospital physicians say screenings and preventive measures lead to good health outcomes.

Ohio County ranks fifth in West Virginia for health outcomes and Marshall County is sixth in the 2019 County Health Rankings data released last week. The state-by-state report was released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Brooke County ranks seventh on the West Virginia list, while Hancock County ranks 27th. In Ohio’s rankings, Harrison County is 44th and Jefferson County is 78th.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Gregg Warren, Wheeling Hospital’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said hospital officials are pleased to see the results for the two local counties. He said Ohio County residents used Wheeling Hospital’s services 156,000 times last year, while Marshall County residents made 48,000 visits to the facility in the same period.

Dr. Angelo Georges, chief medical officer, said screening processes create good health outcomes. He noted the importance of screening for cancer, heart issues, diabetes and other medical conditions.

Since the late 1980s, physicians have been trained on “how screening and preventive medicine are so important,” Georges added.

“I’m very happy to see some of the fruits of our labors come forward and be so positive,” Georges said, referring to the latest health rankings.

Dr. Shawn Stern, internist and medical director, credited Wheeling Hospital’s Primary Care Resource Center for improved patient outcomes. The center, which has been in operation for five years, helps patients “transition from hospital discharge to get into care with a primary care physician,” he said.

“A patient who is well informed about their disease is going to be a healthier patient,” Stern said.

Patients are seen at the Primary Care Resource Center four or five days after discharge, if they can’t get an appointment with their primary care physicians for two or three weeks. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, the center can assist with the transition and have significant impact on patients’ lives.

For example, Stern said, patients can meet with utilization review staff to determine what services are covered by insurance. Patients also can talk to pharmacists, nurse practitioners, social workers and nutritional consultants. Using these resources “keeps them out of the hospital and healing in a good way,” he said.

Data for the past three years show patients treated at the center have a lower incidence of being readmitted within the first six months after discharge, he said.

Patients who don’t have their own physician can be set up with a family practice or a primary care physician. “Those are the people who it helps absolutely the most,” Stern said.

Dr. Gregory Merrick, urologic oncologist and director of the hospital’s Schiffler Cancer Center, said appropriate screening results in early diagnosis and improved rates of recovery.

Citing a connection between patient volume and treatment outcomes, Merrick said Wheeling Hospital’s departments of urology and cardiology are “the busiest in this area.”

In addition, “post-care treatment is there to identify early potential problems,” he said. The Fresh Start program, launched 10 years ago at the Howard Long Wellness Center, has been “extremely helpful” in improving patients’ cardiovascular status and in preventing cancer, he added.