Lifting Hearts and Lives in Tilghman by Amy Steward

Since For All Seasons has been providing treatment for people with mental health and substance use disorders on Tilghman Island, hearts are being lifted there. Michael Flaherty, PhD, who lives part-time on Tilghman Island and attends the Tilghman Island United Methodist Church wanted to help with some of the issues he was seeing as a resident. Flaherty, a psychologist who practices in Pennsylvania and has national expertise in addiction and mental health issues, thought it would be nice if the church could provide healthy mind, body and spirit outreach in the Tilghman community.

Pictured left to right are Ed Langrell, Marcia Gilliam, Ricky Vitanovec, Jane Copple, Katie Cox, Beth Anne Langrell, and Zack Schlag who performed a Heart and Music fundraising concert on Tilghman Island

Pastor Everett Landon of Tilghman Island UMC agreed and the two decided to approach For All Seasons about getting services there. Flaherty recalls, “We decided to do something about the problem and For All Seasons and Beth Anne Langrell, their Executive Director, came right on board. We wanted to bring services to the Island so people didn’t have to travel ‘up the road’ to be seen. Many just couldn’t.”

Within months, For All Seasons counselors opened shop in the pastor’s office at the church and began seeing clients. To date, more than 20 have used the services of For All Seasons and a Narcotics Anonymous meeting that was launched at the church. Flaherty adds, “We are trying to make inroads through education, counseling and peer support. We did a needs assessment of the community and have identified a need for wellness programs, healthy cooking classes, and exercise programs. In June, the church hosted an Overdose Prevention Night with its partners Talbot County Health Department, For All Seasons, Corsica River, the Talbot County Sheriff’s Department. The goal of the event, which drew over 50 people, was to help residents identify and prevent overdoses. Forty participants received doses of Narcan.

Efforts are now underway to provide a peer support network in the community, as the third part of the program, which has been focused on counseling and community education.
According to Beth Anne Langrell, Executive Director of For All Seasons, “There was an obvious need for services on Tilghman Island. This has been a healthy partnership between the Tilghman community and our agency. We hope to see it grow even more.”

TUMC and Tilghman Island residents have supported the efforts there, donating $25,000 to the church to help start programs and pay for the services for those who do not have insurance or a means to pay. For All Seasons’ recent Heart & Music fundraiser also raised funds. To support For All Seasons work on Tilghman Island, contact Executive Director Beth Anne Langrell at 410-822-1018.

In the future, “Healthy Tilghman” will be partnering with the school and with Project Purple, a substance abuse awareness program to engage our community and youth to stand up against substance abuse.

For All Seasons offers individual and group therapy, general, child and adolescent therapy, marriage and couples counseling, grief counseling, school-based mental health therapy, urgent care services, Rape Crisis Response, Rape Crisis Counseling and Support, 24-Hour English and Spanish Hotlines, and education and outreach programming.

For further information about For All Seasons, call 410-822-1018. For the 24-Hour Crisis Hotline, call Toll-Free: 800-310-7273.

Chesapeake and Dorchester YMCA Organizations Merge

Over the past year, volunteer leaders from the Dorchester County YMCA in Cambridge, Maryland and the YMCA of the Chesapeake have been exploring the benefits that could come from working more closely together. Those efforts led to both volunteer Board of Directors voting to merge the two charities together. “Bringing these two YMCAs together expands our ability to invest more into the communities we serve, strengthen programs and services, and maximize efficiencies to make a bigger impact in the lives of children, families and adults across the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia.” said YMCA of the Chesapeake Board member and Committee Chair Mark Welsh. The merger is slated to be completed in early September.

When the two charities officially merge together, the YMCA of the Chesapeake will be the largest human service organization on the Eastern Shore serving over 35,000 members. “With ten YMCA branches across the Shore, and another two dozen points of contact, the YMCA has the depth and breadth to tackle key community issues like the achievement gap, youth obesity and adult onset diabetes.” stated Mary Ann Moore, Past Board Chair for the Dorchester Y and Merger Committee Chair. “Our mission is focused around doing the most good for the most people and bringing these Ys together helps us further our cause.” The Dorchester County YMCA will keep its name and continue to be led by a local Board of volunteers.

Established on the Shore in 1857, the Y provides financial assistance for membership, programs and services turning no one away due to the inability to pay. In 2017, the YMCA will provide over $1,500,000 to over 15,000 people to ensure the Y is a place where everyone is welcome. Dorchester Y Board Chair Lee Grier echoed his excitement for the merger, “The Dorchester Y and the YMCA of the Chesapeake have the same cause and the same culture. We’re both working to strengthen the communities we call home. As we explored the opportunity to bring the two Ys together, it was evident that we could make a bigger impact working together than we ever could working alone.”

YMCA members will have access to facilities, programs and services across the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia as a part of the merger at no additional cost. The YMCA will employ over 850 staff and is currently one of the largest employers of first time work force employees. “Bringing these Y’s together gives us the ability to recruit, grow and develop and retain local talent who have a passion for serving others through the work of the Y and want to live and work on the Shore.” stated YMCA of the Chesapeake CEO Robbie Gill. “This merger is a big win for communities across the Shore and we’re excited to work together to make a positive difference in the lives of those we’re blessed enough to serve.”

UM Shore Regional Health Welcomes New Board Members

Charles D. “Chip” Macleod

Three local community leaders have recently been appointed to the Board of Directors of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health. Charles “Chip” McLeod and Glenn L. Wilson, both of Chestertown, and Stephen Satchell, of Easton, officially joined the Board in July.

Charles D. “Chip” MacLeod founded MacLeod Law Group, LLC in 2017 with offices in Chestertown and Denton, and a practice representing local governments and related agencies. He is head of the firm’s Local Government Practice Group. He also concentrates in real estate, business and contract law, and serves as general counsel to various non-profit organizations and trade associations. As a registered lobbyist, he advocates for clients before the Maryland General Assembly and Executive branch agencies.

Prior to founding MacLeod Law Group, LLC, MacLeod was a member of Funk & Bolton, P.A. for more than 18 years. He was head of the firm’s Local Government and Real Estate Practice Groups while serving as special counsel to various non-profit organizations and public entities on a broad spectrum of legal matters.

MacLeod also previously served as county administrator of Kent County, Maryland; as a member and chairman of the Board of the former Chester River Health System, Inc.; as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Local Government Insurance Trust (LGIT) and chair of LGIT’s Health Benefits Committee; and associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties. He is a graduate of Washington College and University of Maryland School of Law.

Glenn L. Wilson

Glenn L. Wilson was named president and CEO of Chesapeake Bank & Trust in 2015 after five years as president and CEO of a financial institution in western Pennsylvania that included a $1 billion community bank and $1.8 billion trust company. His career in also banking includes the leadership of Citizens National of Laurel, a top performing bank under Mercantile Bankshares that was later acquired by PNC. He subsequently served PNC as senior credit officer overseeing credit operations in most of Maryland. Other career highlights include serving as past national chairman of the Risk Management Association and as vice-chair of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association and a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s Community Institutions Advisory Council.

Wilson’s community involvement has included serving as chair of a local United Way Board in Pennsylvania and as board member for a host of several civic, economic development, and educational organizations. He presently serves as Board chair for the United Way of Kent County and as Board member for Sultana Educational Foundation.

Stephen Satchell is senior vice president and financial advisor for the SRVP Group of Baird Private Wealth Management in Easton. A graduate of Easton High School and Hampden Sydney College, he began his career in finance at Legg Mason in Baltimore in 1992, returning to Easton four years later to focus on wealth management for private clients. He is Series 4,7,63 and 65 registered and is licensed in life, health and long-term care insurance. He presently serves on the St. Johns Foundation Board of Directors and Dave Haslup/Lou Gehrig ASF. His previous Board memberships include the United Fund of Talbot County, Pickering Creek Audubon Center and Talbot Country Club.

Stephen Satchell

Speaking on behalf of the UM SRH Board, John Dillon, chairman, stated: “We are very pleased to have Chip MacLeod, Glenn Wilson and Steve Satchell join us in ensuring that University of Maryland Shore Regional Health will successfully navigate the changing landscape of health care. Their strong personal commitment to the communities we serve, as well as their outstanding professional expertise and accomplishments, make them valuable assets to our efforts going forward.”

In addition to Robert A. Chrencik, CEO, University of Maryland Medical System, and Kenneth Kozel, president and CEO, UM Shore Regional Health, current UM SRH Board members are: from Caroline County, Wayne Howard and Keith McMahan;from Dorchester County, Marlene Feldman, Michael D. Joyce, MD, Richard Loeffler and David Milligan; from Kent County, Myra Butler, Charles B. MacLeod, Charles B. Nolland Glenn L. Wilson; from Queen Anne’s County, Joseph J. Ciotola, MD and Kathleen Deoudes; and from Talbot County, John W. Ashworth,Charles Capute, Art Cecil, John Dillon, Wayne L. Gardner, Sr., Geoffrey F. Oxnam, Stephen Satchell and Thomas Stauch, MD.

“Our board members live and work in our communities. I believe their diverse knowledge and perspectives position us well to achieve our vision of being the region’s leader in patient centered care,” says Kozel.

As part of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is the principal provider of comprehensive health care services for more than 170,000 residents of Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. UM Shore Regional Health’s team of more than 2,300 employees, medical staff, board members and volunteers work with various community partners to fulfill the organization’s mission of Creating Healthier Communities Together.

Debunking the Myths About Foster Parenting in Talbot County

Pictured back row are Jayden Carter and her foster and adoptive parent Glenda Dawson. Seated front row are her other adopted children, left to right, Jeremiah and Jayla Carter.

Talbot County does not have enough foster parent resource homes to accommodate the number of children in need of emergency placement due to unexpected family circumstances. Often, people think there are too many roadblocks to becoming a foster parent and don’t pursue the training and screening necessary to be licensed. Some of the myths surrounding becoming a foster parent are that you need to be married or be a two-parent family; you need to own your own home; you need to have a high income; and you need to have separate bedrooms in your home.

Brandon and Susan Angell with their son Nicholas Angell, along with Paris Quillet, Special Projects Coordinator with the Talbot County Department of Social Services.

According to Paris Quillet, Special Projects Coordinator with the Talbot County Department of Social Services, “Many of these myths keep people from coming to our information sessions to learn more about becoming a foster or adoptive parent. We have foster parents of all races and ethnicities, all religious beliefs, and all sexual orientations. They live in million dollar homes and they live in subsidized housing.”

Glenda Dawson of Easton has been a foster parent for 12 years with the Talbot County Department of Social Services. After raising her own family of four children as a single parent, working two jobs to pay her rent, she discovered Habitat for Humanity and was able to finally purchase her own home. Dawson, who had more love to give, was then licensed as a foster mother to care for her two great nieces and one great nephew. Eventually, through a kinship adoption, she was able to adopt all three children. She continues to provide respite and foster care for the children of Talbot County.

She recalls, “I did this for the love of family and the importance of keeping these children all together as a family.”

She adds, “You just go step by step. If it’s something you really want to do, you go for it. I am proud of what I have accomplished with these children in providing them with a safe and stable home.”

According to Dawson, the support of her extended family and the Department of Social Services has enabled her to manage her second family while continuing to work. Family members help with respite care when she needs a break and the Department helps provide what Dawson needs for the children when things come up. They are also a resource to her for advice and encouragement.

On July 25, 2017 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the Talbot County Department of Social Services will be hosting an open house for anyone interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent at its location at 301 Bay Street Unit #5 Easton MD 21601. For further information, call the Talbot County Department of Social Services at 410-820-7371.

 

Mid-Shore Health: The YMCA’s Winning War against Diabetes

There are a few things that the local health community knows about type 2 diabetes. The first is that it is an epidemic, with close to 28 million Americans already diagnosed facing a lifetime of a disproportionately higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, and a variety of other conditions that often lead to chronic disabilities and death.

The second is that close to 100 million Americans are assumed to be prediabetic. That’s right, about 100 million folks are walking around who could very quickly transition to a condition is experts say is the 7th leading cause of death.

The third is that those whose blood tests indicate a prediabetic condition can dramatically reduce the odds of developing full-blown diabetes by shedding 7% of their weight and committing to some form of exercise for at least 150 minutes a week.

That third fact is what the YMCA of the Chesapeake is now focused on.

Working with adults who are prediabetic, the Y has created year-long classes and support groups throughout the Mid-Shore to slowly and methodically educate their members that their pre-diabetic condition can be controlled or even eliminated with simple, common sense eating and light exercise.

Under the direction of Bridget Wheatley, the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program Director, these outreach efforts are now starting to show some stunning results in the first two years of operations. The three formal classes are running at capacity, and more and more participants are forming informal support groups to maintain personal goals.

The Spy caught up with Bridget and several members of the Y’s support group in Denton a week ago to talk about their experience and the extraordinary sense of well-being that has come with modest changes in lifestyle.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the YMCA of the Chesapeake and its Diabetes prevention programs please go here

 

Taking the Mystery Out of Easton’s Quality Health Foundation with Dr. Molly Burgoyne

There is one “big box” building at the Waterside Village that is not easy to identify. Among stores like Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Harris Teeter and BJ’s warehouse store, the large home of the nonprofit Quality Health Strategies remains a bit of a mystery for most who that drive by it on Marlboro Street.

Dr. Molly Burgoyne, chair of the Quality Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of this extremely successful and locally founded health care services provider, wants to fill in that gap of local knowledge.

While QHS and its subsidiaries has grown to over 500 employees (130 of whom work in Talbot County) since it was founded decades ago by a small group of local doctors, it has always been modest in showcasing its innovative work in developing best practices for health organizations and sophisticated  integrity systems to safeguard against fraud in medical billing.

More importantly, particularly to Dr. Burgoyne, the “profit” of these enterprises goes right back into the community every year in the way of charitable grants. In fact, since 2006 QHF has awarded grants totaling more than $4.5 million to 66 organizations in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The Spy spent some time with Dr. Burgoyne, who is best known locally as a highly regarded rheumatologist in the region, to talk her work with the Quality Health Foundation and its remarkable impact in reaching the neediest in our community with medical coverage and care.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Quality Health Foundation please go here.

Recovery: Maryland Approves Pharmacies Dispensing Naloxone

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently announced that Dr. Howard Haft, the agency’s Deputy Secretary for Public Health, issued a new statewide standing order that allows pharmacies to dispense naloxone, the non-addictive lifesaving drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, to all Maryland citizens. The order follows legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan that included a Hogan administration proposal to enable all citizens to access naloxone. Previously, naloxone was available only to those trained and certified under the Maryland Overdose Response Program.

“As the opioid epidemic has evolved, we have worked steadily to expand access to naloxone,” said Dr. Haft. “Pharmacies play an important role in providing access to naloxone and counseling on how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose. This order is yet another tool to fight this crisis and to provide immediate assistance to overdose victims.”

The Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, a bipartisan omnibus bill passed during the 2017 legislative session that contains provisions to improve patient education and increase treatment services, included the Hogan administration’s proposed Overdose Prevention Act. This updated standing order resulting from the new law further eliminates barriers to naloxone access for anyone who may be at risk of opioid overdose or in a position to assist someone experiencing an opioid overdose.

“By allowing even more people access to naloxone, we’re helping to save lives,” said Clay Stamp, executive director of the Opioid Operational Command Center. “We must remember though, that ultimately, those suffering from the disease of addiction or substance use disorder must be linked to additional treatment to aid in their recovery.”

Single doses of naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, have been demonstrated as effective in reversing a heroin overdose. However, more potent drugs such as fentanyl tend to require multiple doses to reverse an overdose. Emergency services—calling 911 or taking someone to a hospital’s emergency department—should always be sought in an overdose situation.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s 2016 Drug-and Alcohol-Related Intoxication Deaths in Maryland Report, released earlier this month, revealed that 2,089 individuals died from overdoses last year, a 66 percent increase from 2015’s data. For more information on opioid overdose recognition and response, click here.

In March, Governor Hogan declared a State of Emergency in response to the heroin and opioid crisis ravaging communities in Maryland and across the country. This declaration activated the governor’s emergency management authority and enables increased and more rapid coordination between the state and local jurisdictions. The Opioid Operational Command Center, established by Governor Hogan in January through an Executive Order, facilitates collaboration between state and local public health, human services, education, and public safety entities to combat the heroin and opioid crisis and its effects on Maryland communities.

Before It’s Too Late is the state’s effort to bring awareness to this epidemic—and to mobilize resources for effective prevention, treatment, and recovery. Marylanders grappling with a substance use disorder can find help at BeforeItsTooLateMD.org and 1-800-422-0009, the state crisis hotline. 

Opioid Crisis Rural Maryland’s Worst Problem

DENTON — If there is one hopeful thing about Maryland’s opioid crisis, it’s that no one is denying the obvious.

“Very honestly nothing is working,” said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

For rural areas where communities are small and the stigma is large, opioids can be particularly insidious. The guy who jumped out of the moving ambulance after getting revived by naloxone might be an old high school classmate. The woman selling drugs at the hospital to fellow addicts could be the little sister of a good friend.

The epidemic is also a serious drag on government and medical resources in places where budgets are already stretched. Then there’s the psychic toll, especially on police, ambulance and hospital workers who slug it out on the front lines, often with the same addicts, day after day.

But while the opioid crisis appears to be kicking Maryland’s rural populations while they’re down, the silver lining might be in the size and inherent closeness of those communities, which are beginning to coordinate efforts to combat opioids in ways that simply aren’t possible in the state’s more populated counties.

Localizing the problem

“In our small area, opioids affect pretty much every family one way or another,” said Tommy Conneely, who runs the Lost Sheep Recovery Mission in Caroline County and said he has been seven years sober from alcohol.

Caroline, like other rural counties, is beginning to harmonize their anti-opioid efforts across a wide range of public, private and faith-based groups. The county’s drug and alcohol abuse council includes a diverse collection of law enforcement, education, substance abuse and mental health officials.

And people like Conneely, who, as an ex-cop now involved in faith-based recovery efforts, brings a wholly unique perspective.

The Caroline drug council is in the midst of a series of events hosted at volunteer fire departments, where the FBI documentary “Chasing the Dragon” is being shown, followed by a discussion initiated by former addicts and their parents.

“We found that we had a lot of family members (attend) who had loved ones in active addiction who needed support,” said Holly Ireland, executive director of Mid-Shore Behavioral Health, a referral and planning agency that receives some state funding and operates in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

“What we haven’t quite figured out is how to tackle engaging the community that is addicted,” Ireland added.

In Harford County, which has one of the highest opioid-related per capita death rates in Maryland, the approach is also multifaceted. They’ve got drug education happening in elementary schools, a prescription return program, rehab for opioid-addicted mothers, a special opiate court and a host of other initiatives.

“We broke down barriers between the sheriff, the board of education, the health department and worked together to go into schools,” said County Executive Barry Glassman, R-Harford. “Our program was recognized by the National Association of Counties for the way it was opened up to the whole county to be part of it.”


And yet Harford’s opioid-related death rates have gone up in almost every category since 2014.

“We’re not gonna give up, but it’s gonna be one of those long-term struggles,” Glassman said. “It’s a generational thing that might take 20 years before we get a grip on it.”

Last August, Barry Ronan, president and CEO of Western Maryland Health System, joined an opioid task force that brought together a similarly wide cross-section of people in Allegany County.

It happened after Ronan was forced to ask that a police officer be stationed in Western Maryland’s emergency room from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day to deal with the surge of sometimes violent addicts arriving for treatment.

“Our staff was being spit upon, assaulted, equipment was being broken,” he said.

In the past two years, Western Maryland Health has spent nearly $1.5 million in additional costs from opioid-related patient treatment.

“(The opioid crisis) eats up a lot of resources,” said Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson. “It takes away the ability for us to do normal law enforcement functions like checks on high-crime areas and speeding enforcement.”

The Allegany task force that includes Ronan and Robertson now meets monthly to coordinate efforts and share ideas.

“Trying to address this from a community perspective has paid off,” said Ronan, at least in terms of unifying the county’s approach. Ronan mentioned things like putting mental health professionals in ambulances as one of the efforts the group is now trying.

“Over the last few months, we’ve seen a slight decline in the OD numbers, which is encouraging,” Ronan said.

Emergency state

In 2016, there were 918 heroin-related deaths in Maryland through September according to the state’s health department, up 23 percent from the total in 2015 and up nearly 60 percent from 2014’s total.

Scarier still is the sudden rise in the use of fentanyl and carfentanil, synthetic opioids that can be more than 1,000 times stronger than morphine and are often mixed with heroin, to fatal effect. Fentanyl-related deaths increased nearly 120 percent between 2015 and the first nine months of 2016, to 738 statewide.

On March 1, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency around the state’s opioid epidemic, committing $50 million over five years to the problem. It was the latest escalation in a series of his administration’s efforts to slow the state’s opioid death toll, which continued to rise in 2016, according to the latest reporting.

What Hogan’s emergency edict calls for is an action plan to be made and then implemented across a slew of state and local agencies throughout Maryland.

The effort is being led by Clay Stamp, the governor’s senior adviser for emergency management and the former director of emergency services for Talbot County, a rural area on the Eastern Shore.

“Education and prevention will move the needle,” said Stamp. “What it does is remove the demand from supply and demand.”

Stamp also said that public health will be the focus of the state’s plan, and likened the scale and approach of forthcoming efforts to those that were used for anti-smoking and HIV education in the past.

Some argue the state’s entire approach is misguided and destined to fail.

“The governor created a task force for heroin and it didn’t have a person in recovery on the task force,” said Mike Gimbel, the director of substance abuse for Baltimore County from 1980 to 2003. “They don’t understand heroin. They really think it’s like teen smoking. This isn’t drug prevention 101.”

According to Gimbel, there’s unlikely to be any headway made against the problem without a primary focus on long-term treatment and rehabilitation, not on naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and vivitrol, which blocks opioid receptors in the brain for up to a month.

“We’re not going to medicate our way out of it. You don’t solve a drug problem with more drugs,” Gimbel said. “The model should be treatment on demand.”

Funding for Hogan’s state of emergency effort is authorized under the recently passed HOPE Act, which calls for a series of initiatives that revolve around reforming drug courts, naloxone distribution and hospital discharge procedures. The bill also calls for the establishment of “crisis treatment centers,” but requires only one to be up and running before June 2018 and mandates no others.

“It’s important that on the back side, there’s treatment,” said Stamp. “We have to beef up our ability to help people fighting addictions.”

A matter of faith

The inclusion of faith-based organizations on local drug councils is indicative of the all-hands approach in rural areas. What religious groups can bring to the opioid fight is significant in terms of manpower and a direct connection to the community.

“We’re a microcosm of what’s going on in the street,” said Pastor David Ziler of the Union Rescue Mission in Cumberland, a homeless shelter with 62 beds that serves about 200 meals a day. “If it’s happening, we’re going to see it before anyone else is seeing it.”

Ziler believes churches and religious organizations can provide what the government can’t.

“We’re throwing money at the problem, but we haven’t thrown people at the problem,” Ziler said. “(Religious organizations) are the biggest volunteer group in the world and we can offer more man hours than anyone.”

by J.F. Meils

The Heart of It by Amelia Blades Steward

Seven years ago, in the summer of 2010, English Tong was driving home from college in Arizona to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She always tried to stay with friends and family whenever she could while road tripping. She wanted to split the drive into at least two days so she asked her parents if they knew anyone between Colorado and Maryland. English’s father had a suggestion, but not one she could have imagined.

Pictured left to right are the Tong children: Hunter Tong, Chloe Tong, and English Tong

Seventeen years earlier, English, her sister Chloe, and her parents, Rodney and Elizabeth Tong of Royal Oak, lost their brother and son, Hunter Tong, age two and one half, to an unexpected death. Hunter’s parents chose to donate Hunter’s organs. English’s father was suggesting that English stop in Topeka, Kansas on her way home and meet the family whose son received Hunter’s heart.

In honor of the 24th anniversary of her brother’s death, English wanted to tell the story of her meeting the young man who got her brother’s heart– Casey Artzer. She writes in her blog entry of March 9, 2017 for Sniglet Writings, “This is not a story of how my brother died, but of the life he brought after his death. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for my parents to not only decide to donate his heart, but continue contact with the recipient’s family still to this day.”

Once English’s blog was published, Casey and his mother, read it and discussed it. Casey said he was ready to meet the whole family and reached out to them to set up a meeting this June at the Tong’s home.

Pictured is a painting of Hunter’s shoes done by artists Wendy Van Nest.

Elizabeth Tong states, “For me, meeting Casey has to be emotionally assimilated, it has even affected me physically. We received letters from each of Casey’s parents on the first anniversary of Hunter’s death, but I was unable to respond to them for seven years. After that, we have kept in touch at Christmas time through Christmas cards and notes, but we haven’t really talked.”

The Tong’s story begins on the night of Rodney Tong’s 40th birthday party in 1993. Hunter played long and hard with all the children in attendance at the birthday party. After Hunter woke up at 7 a.m. the next morning a little fussy, Rodney recalls rocking him back to sleep. At mid-morning, Elizabeth decided to wake him up and he was limp in her arms. Once at Memorial Hospital in Easton, the decision was made to fly him to Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC where Hunter was placed in intensive care. At this point, Rodney and Elizabeth both knew Hunter’s condition was serious, but they didn’t know what was wrong.

Rodney recalls, “On Sunday his brain scan was normal, but doctors were treating him for seizures and trying to figure the cause of the problem. Monday, the doctors discovered that Hunter’s brain was swelling and things had turned for the worse. At that point, the doctors told us that the damage to Hunter’s brain would most likely be fatal.”

Pictured is a painting by Nancy Tankersley of Elizabeth Tong with Hunter.

Elizabeth desperately clung to the words “most likely,” but not for long as the doctor in attendance that afternoon only shook his head and looked away when she tried to convince him that it was only “most likely,” in other words not fatal yet, leaving her the slightest glimmer of hope. Elizabeth remembers, “I can only assume, that was their way of gently giving us the real news, that Hunter was dying and there was nothing that could be done.”

At that point, shock took over, the kind of shock that consumes a person facing the worst kind of news. Elizabeth likens it to a time release capsule, allowing reality in only so often and only in amounts one can take. This shock allowed Elizabeth and Rodney to put one foot in front of the other and later to broach the subject of organ donation. As soon as it was raised, the wheels of donation were immediately set into motion.

The family had to wait from Monday through Wednesday for the drugs to get out of Hunter’s system in order for the doctors to pronounce him dead. This gave English and other family members and friends time to come to Washington to say good-bye. The doctors never were able to tell the Tongs the cause of Hunter’s death.

When asked whether she needed a medical explanation for what caused Hunter’s death, Elizabeth comments about her son, “I don’t need a name for what happened to Hunter. Hunter came and did what he was supposed to do and left us very gently.” She adds thoughtfully, “It’s been a good thing to transplant his organs – it’s something beneficial coming out of something so horrific. A piece of him went on.”

On March 10, 1993, Hunter Tong died. The next day, Casey Artzer from Kansas, got a new heart.

Lisa Colaianni, Donor Family Advocate with The Washington Regional Transplant Community, who met the Tongs after the donation and who has become a family friend, comments, “I can’t imagine trying to think of others while going through such a tragedy as the Tongs experienced. Twenty-one people die every day needing an organ transplant. They gave the ultimate gift of life to another boy and that provided them with hope in their despair. Today, we have a 25-year old who is alive because of Hunter’s donation.”

Pictured is Hunter doing what he loved to do most, snuggling with his sister Chloe

For sisters Chloe and English, the memories are scant of their brother Hunter. English can only remember bits and pieces of Hunter, so for her, Casey makes him real. Family videos of Hunter following English around and mimicking her actions prove the special bond they had. Chloe was only four months old when Hunter died. According to Elizabeth, however, Chloe and Hunter had a special connection as well. He proudly announced to everyone who called, “new baby,” referring to his new little sister. He constantly wanted to be next to her and touching her.
Chloe comments, “I had questions about Hunter as I grew up. I identified with qualities of him as I grew up, always trying to help my dad do things a boy would do because he had lost a son.”

Rodney recalls the rich relationship he had with his son, if only for a short time. He states, “I was able to spend quality time with him because I was doing carpentry work at the time. He loved to be with me on jobs. He had work boots to wear when he went with me. I have a memory of building a railing on our steps and Hunter figured out at age two what screws went into what holes. He would pick up tools and ask what they were.”

He adds, “He loved mechanical things – cars, back hoes, and mechanic shops. He loved being with me when I was doing things and adored being with my father, who was a builder by trade.

He made toys for Hunter out of scraps of wood and fixed things.”
Elizabeth recalls Hunter as being very attached to family and not wanting to leave his mom to go to preschool. She states, “He would always say about doing new things, ‘When mine gets older.’”

English writes in her blog about meeting Casey,

“The family asked me to meet them at his high school, where he would be performing in his school band, playing the saxophone. I remember being really picky about what I wore (a striped grey and green sweater, black skinny jeans) and trying really hard to focus on my driving over there. I walked into an empty entrance way to the school, more nervous than I had ever been in my life. Having no idea where I was supposed to go, I started to panic a bit, when a short, blonde, friendly face came racing up to me, wrapping her arms around me. His mother had been waiting for my arrival outside of the auditorium, and all of a sudden I was surrounded with so many enthusiastic greetings and smiles and hugs from his older sister and father.

Pictured is a painting by Tankersley of Rodney Tong with Hunter.

The first time I ever saw, in person, the man carrying my brother’s heart, was on that stage with a saxophone. If I remember correctly, he performed last, with a large group of other seniors.

After the show, we moved out into the lobby, waiting for him, and his younger sister, to join us. So many people approached and introduced themselves to me, commenting on how amazing this was and that I needed a camera crew following me. All I could think about was how I was going to react to shaking his hand, looking him in the eye, and hearing his voice. The poor guy was probably more overwhelmed than I, so I tried not to scare him by bursting into tears or wrapping my arms around him too tightly. He was just so sweet, soft, and obviously nervous, for good reason.

Once finished, the family took me to dinner. There were quite a few people with us, so it was a large group. I remember eating some kind of chicken wrap and stumbling over questions I had for him about his life and interests. One thing I definitely remember is never wanting the night to end, as it had given me a high I had never felt before, nor since.”

While the family members’ reactions have each been different, each family member is approaching the June 13 meeting of Casey with great anticipation. The week Casey and his family are here, the Tongs are planning a musical gathering with friends because of Casey’s own musical interests. English recalls her memory of Casey, stating, “Casey is a quiet and reserved person.

He is into alternative things like our family – a more liberal person, I think, and one who thinks outside of the box.”

Elizabeth adds, “I have thought about a bit of our son coming home. I haven’t wrapped my head around that yet. All of us want it to be as gentle and natural as possible for Casey. We want him to get to know us and for our meeting to be as organic as possible.”

For Chloe, who perhaps knew Hunter the least, but who had a special bond with her brother, comments, “I have always wanted to meet Casey. I was angry I hadn’t met him sooner. It’s so cool that it is such a major organ that was transplanted from my brother.”

Rodney tries to grasp the upcoming meeting, stating “Our son is dead but he’s not – his major organ is still beating. I want to hear his heartbeat when I meet Casey. I want to put my ear next to his heart.”

Lisa states, “It is highly unusual to have a meeting between a donor family and a recipient 24 years later. Most meetings like this happen within the first five years of the transplant.” She adds, “What I love about this story is the sibling side of it, which is not told that often. The fact that English met the recipient and then wrote the blog, which went everywhere, and ultimately reached the family, is very unique.” She adds, “The Tongs understood from the very beginning the importance of telling their story so that others may register to become donors.”

At the end of her blog, English writes, “Oh, and one last little detail, the one I tend to leave out and only recently revealed to my parents. The last song he and his band played that night on the stage where I first saw him? My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion.”

To read English Tong’s blog, visit http://snigletwritings.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-tornado-going-on-outside.html?spref=fb. For information about making the decision to be an organ donor, visit Washington Regional Transplant Community’s website at www.beadonor.org.

Mid-Shore Health Futures: How Our Regional Hospitals Measure Up

Susan Coe was in search of cottage cheese.

The chief experience officer and senior vice president at University of Maryland’s Shore Regional Health was looking in on a new patient at UM Medical Center at Easton. The patient, she learned, wanted her cottage cheese not in a small compartment on a tray but on a plate.

“She had her heart set on the platter,” Coe said.

The nurse immediately called food services to make the change but Coe said she decided to go get the plate of cottage cheese herself.

“It’s about respecting the patient,” she said.

That attention to patient satisfaction is part of a major change in hospitals, including at Shore Regional Health. Before 2007, hospitals largely measured their success by looking at “hard” data that evaluate patient safety and outcomes for specific procedures or events, such as heart attacks or infections. But in the past decade, the federal government began requiring that hospitals also measure how satisfied patients are with their care. Each hospital patient is given a 27-question survey that asks a range of questions, from how well the doctors and nurses communicated, to how noisy and clean the hospital was, to whether the patient would recommend the hospital to a friend.

And Shore Regional Health didn’t like what it was seeing, at least in one area.

Robert Carroll, regional director performance measurement & improvement, said that for the last eight quarters patient satisfaction ratings had been declining at the Easton and Dorchester facilities (considered one entity in ratings) and at its Chestertown hospital. The latest published data, from April 2015 to the end of March 2016, show that the Shore Regional Health hospitals score below average in patient satisfaction nationally and statewide. This is the despite the fact that the hospitals scored average or above average in most of its quality and safety ratings both statewide and nationally.

By contrast, the latest data show that Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury rate better than average statewide and nationally in patient satisfaction. Peninsula also scored better than average in quality and patient safety ratings statewide and nationally. And Anne Arundel rated better than average nationally in quality and a safety, while it rated average statewide. In Maryland, consumers can go online to get information on safety, quality and satisfaction ratings at the Maryland Health Care Commission website (http://healthcarequality.mhcc.maryland.gov).

In December, Shore Regional Health launched a program called HEART to change patients’ perception of their care. And that, Coe said, required that caregivers consciously reconnect with what brought them into health care in the first place. “It’s about empathy, communication and connection,” Coe said. “It’s listening, watching, understanding.”

In the first phase of the program, 25 peer counsellors were trained. From January through March, those counsellors then led three-hour sessions among Shore Regional Health’s more than 2,000 employees. The focus, Coe said, was on helping caregivers see the hospital experience through the patient’s eyes.

“Every patient is reluctant to enter the hospital,” said Trena Williamson, regional director of communications and marketing at Shore Regional Health. “But for the medical staff, this is their normal.”

A new mother with a sick baby might see things differently than a veteran nurse with other, sicker patients, Williamson said. The HEART program helps staff “recalibrate” so as to see the situation from the patient’s perspective, she said.

Coe said patient satisfaction surveys are helpful but it is the comments that are most useful.

“The scores give us a number but the comments give us gifts of insight and direction,” she said. “We really look at comments– and we follow up.”

Keeping a patient-centered focus is “baked into the culture” at Anne Arundel Medical Center, where about 10 percent of hospital patients and 1 in 5 office visitors are from the Eastern Shore, said Maulik Joshi, executive vice president of integrated care delivery and chief operating officer.

Joshi said new hires are made based on their willingness not only to deliver the best medical care but also to make sure patients feel a personal connection.

“We own ‘I care’ behavior,” he said. “I—I sit down and talk with a patient at the beside; C—I connect with patients by smiling and saying hello; A—I answer quickly when someone has a question; R—I always tell everyone my role; and E—I always escort people.”

At Peninsula, the team approach and employees who live in the community and have worked many years at the hospital are key to both a high quality of care and patients’ happiness, said Sheri Matter, the hospital’s vice president of patient services.

Nurses and doctors together visit the patient to ensure everyone—including the patient—understands the plan of care, both in the hospital and when the patient goes home, she said.

And, she said, there is a “direct correlation” between patient satisfaction and “higher quality outcomes.”

“You have to listen,” she said.

Coe, at Shore Regional Health, would agree.

There, HEART has entered Phase 2: coaching and helping hospital staff put the program into practice. After that, “we’ll expand, go deeper,” she said.

In the meantime, Carroll said he is not worried about the ratings.

“We’re doing this because it’s a better way to do it,” he said. “The numbers will take care of themselves.”

The Regional Overview

If you have a heart attack, bicycle accident or need knee surgery, it’s useful to know how your hospital rates in quality of care, safety, and patient satisfaction.

Thanks to a growing trend in healthcare that looks at outcomes instead of just treatments, many government and private groups collect and disseminate data on hospitals’ performance. The information includes everything from specific comparisons about the likelihood of getting a hospital-acquired infection to how quiet the hospital corridors are at night. Hospitals are graded on these benchmarks and can be compared across a state or against a neighboring state.

In Maryland, which has a unique arrangement with the federal government for hospital reimbursements, consumers can go to a state website to see how their hospitals compare on many of these milestones.

The Maryland Health Care Commission, an independent agency, has an online consumer guide that can help answer many of your questions:

Sources: Shore Regional Health; Peninsula Regional Medical Center; Anne Arundel Medical Center

For example, you can use the website to look at a combined quality and safety score for every hospital in the state. Most hospitals in the state rank average on combined quality and safety compared with other Maryland hospitals, including the University of Maryland Shore Medical Centers at Easton, Chestertown and Dorchester. The only ones listed as better than average statewide are Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, and the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. Anne Arundel Medical Center, rated average statewide, is among 21 Maryland hospitals rated better than average compared with hospitals nationwide.

Much of the data come from the federal government, through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The federal site also has its own hospital comparison tools. You can also go directly to the centers’ site: Medicare.gov. The direct link to the hospital compare site is found here.

Using that site, you can find and compare hospitals across the nation and check them out against the ones in your own backyard.

With all the information that is collected, using the sites can be a little daunting. But there is a way to cut through the clutter to find what you’re looking for.

Start out with the overall ratings to see how the hospitals stack up

Zero in on areas that align with your procedure–for example, maternity care or orthopedic surgery.

Look at the patient satisfaction measures, which tell you things like how well the hospital staff communicates with patients about the discharge instructions, prescriptions, etc.

If you have to go to the emergency room, there’s also information on how quickly you’ll get attention from the medical staff. Easton, Chestertown and Peninsula hospitals were rated better than average in six measures for how quickly emergency room patients were handled compared with other hospitals in the state. Anne Arundel was below average in four of the six measures.

 

Spy Contributor Robert Tiernan was managing editor of Consumer Reports from 2006 to 2015. Spy Contributor Ridgely Ochs covered health care, personal health and medicine for more than 20 years at Newsday on Long Island. They both now live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.