The wound center at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis has started a new program to bring hyperbaric chamber therapy to patients with wounds that won’t heal.
Last week, the first patient had a treatment in the hyperbaric chambers, which deliver compressed oxygen into an enclosed tube where the patient is situated.
The chambers are traditionally known for treating such conditions as decompression sickness in divers.
But the hyperbaric chambers at Via Christi will most likely treat diabetics with foot wounds and people who have undergone radiation treatment and have a breakdown of their skin or bone that won’t heal, said Marilee McBoyle, medical director of the wound center.
The chambers are being used to treat non-emergency patients, and patients must be referred by a physician, she said.
She estimates that about 10 percent of the wound center’s patients will eventually need the hyperbaric treatment, or about eight patients each day.
“For those patients outside the normal wound care parameters, that’s where the hyperbaric will be a tremendous asset,” McBoyle said.
Patients who get hyperbaric treatments usually go five days a week for two-hour sessions. Each session requires 10 to 15 minutes to get to the compressed atmosphere before a 90-minute treatment, and then another 10 to 15 minutes to get back to the regular atmosphere.
Diabetic foot wounds are especially common, said Kris Hill, nursing director for trauma services, critical care transport and wound and skin.
“One of the complications of being a long-term diabetic is you don’t have good blood flow and so that sets you up for lower extremity ulcers, and if it’s not getting good blood flow, it’s not going to heal,” Hill said.
It can be especially difficult for some foot wounds to heal if people have to stand up to work.
In extreme cases, diabetics may lose the sensation in their feet.
“The staff that work here have a calling for this,” Hill said. “They work hard to heal patients, and sometimes that takes weeks or months and keeping them on track.”
“It’s always been one of the things that has amazed me about being in health care. All of a sudden, people that you’ve never met before, you’re able to ask them questions and they trust you more than somebody they’ve known their entire life,” McBoyle said.
“You never want to take that for granted. The simplicity, but the great responsibility of that.”
In August, Via Christi partnered with Healogics, a wound center management company based in Jacksonville, Fla., to launch the hyperbaric treatment program and treat patients with complex wounds.
Healogics manages wound care at about 500 hospital-based centers in the U.S., said Tanya Winter, program director with Healogics.
The management company focuses on a team approach for physicians and nurses.
Some of the physicians who work at the wound center have backgrounds in surgery, infectious disease and internal medicine. There is also a certified diabetes educator and a social worker on the staff.
Participating Via Christi physicians and nurses received additional training from Healogics, Winter said.
Healogics has a database for patients to track their progress and that’s being integrated into the Via Christi electronic medical record system, Winter said.
The wound center is at the beginning stages of its data collection to see how its patients compare with other Healogics locations, Hill said.
Wound center history
The wound center moved to its current location at 848 N. St. Francis, Suite 1900, in 2011. It was previously on the second floor in St. Francis Hospital.
The program originally started in 1996 with a team of three nurses seeing patients at St. Francis and one nurse at St. Joseph. The two programs merged in 1997.
Boyle said that nurse Jean Dukich has been the “cornerstone of wound care at Via Christi before the name change.”
The cost of the wound center remodeling, furnishing and equipment at the current location was about $1.25 million, according to a Via Christi spokeswoman.