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New hospital center treats patients with wounds that won’t heal

Recorder/Paul Franz
Carrie O’Gorman and Doreen DiBiase work with the new hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers used to help heal persistent wounds, especially in diabetic patients.

Recorder/Paul Franz Carrie O’Gorman and Doreen DiBiase work with the new hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers used to help heal persistent wounds, especially in diabetic patients.

GREENFIELD — Cuts, scrapes and bruises are usually temporary painful annoyances that heal over with time and with minimal treatment.

Yet hundreds of people in Franklin County are walking around with wounds that have not healed for months or years, said Amy Pierno, program director for Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s new Wound & Hyperbaric Medicine Center.

“It’s really an area that you wouldn’t imagine exists for people,” she said. “It’s a difficult thing. It’s very private and people don’t know that there’s anywhere to go.”

The center, which opened in September at 48 Sanderson St., provides a variety of wound treatment options, including a hyperbaric chamber that uses daily doses of saturated oxygen to repair the body’s tissue.

It’s the first and only center of its kind in Franklin County. Hospital officials said that patients previously had to travel as far as Springfield or Brattleboro, Vt., for treatment.

The hospital believes it will serve at least 500 patients each year. It aims to heal wounds in 16 weeks or less, said Pierno, using treatments that are often covered by insurance providers.

“This is the type of medicine that community hospitals can and do provide,” said Chuck Gijanto, president of Baystate Franklin. “This is a service that we have felt for a long time that we have a need for in the community and that patients until now have either gone under-served or had to leave the community (to get treatment).”

Long-lasting wounds can result from a number of causes.

Diabetic patients may develop foot ulcers that don’t heal, others may have experienced carbon monoxide poisoning or skin or organ damage caused by radiation therapy. And still others could have been trapped under heavy objects that cut off circulation to their tissues.

The glass hyperbaric chamber, which looks like it should belong on a spaceship, actually feels more like a trip on an airplane for the people who lie inside for 90 minutes to two hours, said Pierno.

“A little pressure in the ears ... that’s all they’ll really feel,” she said. “They get to relax and watch television when they’re in the chamber. ... A lot of people find it relaxing and take a nap.”

Patients receive the hyperbaric treatment daily for up to two months. The super-oxygenated air in the chamber is slowly brought under pressure with a nurse technician present to make sure all goes smoothly. Patients can take breaks and breathe regular air during the session.

All treatments require physician referral and hospital officials said they’ve notified local primary care doctors about the new program. The center also offers other treatment options, including specialized dressings, surgical removal of unhealthy tissue, compression therapy and biological skin substitutes.

It’s a partnership between the hospital and the Washington-based company Accelecare Wound Centers, who jointly run the program.

Gijanto said that the center has been three years in the making. The hospital talked to five different wound care companies before settling on Accelecare.

To prepare for the program, four general surgeons and one hospitalist traveled to Chicago for a one-week clinical training in advanced wound care. They then completed a one-week hyberbaric oxygen chamber training in Texas.

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