Partner Spotlight: Long-standing support of the Center for Well-Being stresses the importance of cardiac rehab

February 27, 2023 Christina Harris

In honor of heart month, we are spotlighting a community partner that plays an essential role in providing cardiac rehabilitation services close to home—the Center for Well-Being. This Santa Rosa based nonprofit organization offers HeartWorks cardiac rehab services (Phase II and Phase III) to patients with a history of cardiovascular disease. The only organization in Sonoma County to offer these services, the Center for Well-Being cared for 203 patients during 6,840 visits in 2022 alone.

Following completion of Providence Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital’s (SRMH) Phase I cardiac rehab program, our physicians refer patients to the Center for Well-Being for the next stage of their rehabilitation journey. Located near the hospital’s campus at 500 Doyle Park Drive, the organization’s Phase II cardiac rehab program includes 12 weeks of education as well as monitored exercise on an EKG treadmill (blood pressure, oxygen and body mass index measurements are all carefully examined). During the Phase III program, clinicians supervise individuals’ physical activity twice a week for 75 minutes to help patients improve their wellness and exercise capacity in a safe environment.

“It’s a tremendous benefit,” said Thomas Dunlap, M.D., a cardiologist at SRMH and medical director for the cardiac rehabilitation program. “After patient’s undergo a procedure, such as an open chest valve placement or stent placement...[their doctor tells them] they need to follow a diet, exercise and take medications. For most people, that’s daunting, so like with any serious medical condition, the treatment goes on after the acute event. [During cardiac rehab], support develops in an organic way because patients are with a group of others who have been through similar health events.”

According to Dr. Dunlap, [cardiac rehab] helps people with heart conditions feel safe and comfortable doing normal things and fosters good long-term heart care through instruction on exercise and eating a heart healthy diet. Typically, there are approximately a dozen patients in a class, with five classes offered each day. Patients wear a heart monitor during exercise and can discuss any symptoms with providers who understand heart issues. According to Dr. Dunlap, studies have shown patients who completed cardiac rehab were 10% less likely to be readmitted to the hospital and had a 20% increase in quality-of-life index scores.

“It’s inspiring,” said Karissa Moreno, executive director for the Center for Well-Being, speaking of the program’s ability to increase patients’ confidence. “Patients come in feeling vulnerable, and after experiencing 36 sessions of the supportive and medically supervised program, they feel like they have a new lease on life. They end up being cheerleaders for the next cohort of incoming patients – leaving notes of inspiration on the facility wall.”

She shared the story of one patient who was frightened that everything would be different surgery. After completing the program, the patient shared that the program returned her sense of self and that she was grateful. Another patient shared how their breath was given back to them through the program and helped "save their life" by giving them a path to follow. 

According to Dr. Dunlap, the history of cardiac rehab in Santa Rosa dates back to 1982. It had been clear to him and his colleagues that coaching patients’ post-surgery how to resume or begin exercise after leaving the hospital would be beneficial. That year, with the support of nurses on their team, they started an exercise program at Santa Rosa Junior College for those who had been through surgery or had angioplasty. The Northern California Medical Associates of Cardiology began offering the HeartWorks cardiac rehab programs in their office building in the early 90’s when licensing and Medicare formally began supporting cardiac rehab programs. More than a decade later, the Centers for Well-Being joined forces with HeartWorks and operations transitioned to them.

Providence continues to financially support the program as well, ensuring the Center for Well-Being can purchase new equipment (including EMR technology and an EKG system), cover facility costs, clinical staff and more. Providence leaders and physicians have served on the board of directors for years, including Monique Most, SRMH’s director of patient experience who currently serves on the board.

“The program could not exist without the financial support of the hospital and the charitable contributions that people make to the Center for Well-Being,” said Dr. Dunlap.

In addition to cardiac rehab, our caregivers refer patients to the Center for Well-Being’s nutritional support programs for support overcoming eating disorders, managing diabetes, blood pressure, meal planning, pain management and achieving a healthy weight. The organization offers a plethora of programs, including mental health and fitness curriculum in schools. Through grant funding, scholarships are offered to their programs at no cost to those who need financial support.

To learn more, click here.

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