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Have a healthy-heart lifestyle

February 26, 2024

Christopher Vaccari, M.D., an experienced cardiologist, says he regularly encounters three main issues with his patients’ heart health: coronary artery disease, irregular heart rhythms and congestive heart failure. And all can be improved with lifestyle choices. The cardiologist has some tips to help. “The keys are three-fold,” he said. “Diet, exercise and avoiding behaviors we know are bad for the heart.” What should you avoid for a heart-healthy diet? Eating healthy includes limiting sugar, salt and high-calorie foods. To get a handle on these, Dr. Vaccari suggests checking the labels on foods. There are also apps that help track the numbers. One of the biggest culprits when it comes to sugar is drinks. With salt, it’s not so much what you add at the table, but the sodium you get in eating processed food — deli meat, breads, fast food, among others. Sugary drinks and processed food also tend to be high in calories and don’t offer much in return. Related to this the actual amount of food you consume. “You do all this work to lose weight, but then you overestimate portion sizes,” he said. “That’s why we sometimes feel we’re not losing weight.” What exercise regimen is good for heart health? When it comes to exercise, Dr. Vaccari said he’s seen dramatic improvements when people go from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one. “You need to do it easy,” he said, noting you can start with walking 30 minutes a day and working up to more aerobic activity over time. Those above a certain age should talk to their doctor before starting an exercise regimen, since there’s more concern with bone and joint health, he said. What are some ways to eliminate unhealthy behaviors? Unhealthy behaviors to eliminate include smoking and drinking alcohol. Dr. Vaccari said he knows it can be difficult to get certain behaviors under control. “Sometimes it’s useful to have an idea of your numbers,” he said, referring to things such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-sugar. “That can give you the motivation to break certain habits.” Dr. Vaccari suggests talking to your healthcare provider if your blood pressure in the morning is persistently over 140/90; if, generally, your LDL cholesterol is more than 130; and if your fasting blood sugar is over 126. Sometimes, seeing a family member or friend going through the effects of heart disease is a motivator. Sometimes simply celebrating a birthday can do it. “Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s after they have their own first heart event that it’s a wakeup call,” he said. To get help with keeping your heart healthy, visit Meritus Hagerstown Heart online at meritushealth.com/locations/meritus-hagerstown-heart or call 301-797-2525. And if you live near Hancock, Dr. Vaccari will start seeing patients weekly beginning in March at the recently opened Meritus Primary Care office, 351 N. Pennsylvania Ave.

Go for Bold helps mom stay disciplined in weight-loss journey

February 23, 2024

Amanda Royer described her old life as being a “no mom,” or a “tomorrow girl.” When her children would ask her to play outside with them, she would say “no.” When there was a task to be done, she would say she’d do it “tomorrow.” At that time more than two years ago, she weighed 260 pounds. It took mental health counselling and discipline instilled by the Go For Bold initiative to get her on track to losing weight and believing in herself. Royer, a licensed practical nurse with the Washington County Commission on Aging, is embarking on a career as a personal trainer and community health educator. And all of this is despite a near amputation of her left hand that left her with permanent nerve damage and nearly sidelined her efforts. “I wanted to be a yes mom,” she said. “I wanted to be a good example to my kids. “Getting to that place is the hardest part. It takes the readiness to change.” Royer’s primary care provider at Meritus Primary Care on Crayton Boulevard started her on her journey. Nurse practitioner Kate Smith helped connect Royer with therapists at Brook Lane. “They helped me to realize I needed to start putting myself first,” Royer said. From there, she connected with a gym in Hagerstown, starting with short classes during her lunch breaks. She began to increase the intensity of her workouts, eventually moving into high-impact classes. Royer said she was fortunate in that she had some things keeping her accountable. One was her niece, Sierra. The other was Go For Bold, an initiative sponsored in part by Meritus Health to lose 1 million pounds as a community by 2030. The Go for Bold initiative was started by Healthy Washington County, a coalition of public and private organizations with a mission to strengthen the health and wellness of our community and residents. The initiative was sparked after a Community Health Needs Assessment found Washington County residents had high rates of chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, among others. To achieve the million-pound weight-loss goal, the initiative: Focuses on increasing physical activity personally and through fun and engaging community-wide events Incorporates mindfulness and stress reduction techniques into daily activities Offers nutrition tips and healthy recipes that focus on fresh fruits and vegetables Royer not only uses the nutrition lessons offered by Go For Bold for herself, she also teaches them as part of multiple health classes offered through Washington County Commission on Aging. Proper nutrition is a key part of her journey she said. “It’s like premium fuel,” she said, noting a vehicle will run better with high-octane gasoline. “Your body needs it. Your brain needs it.” Admittedly, it can be tough to stay motivated. She noted that when she injured her hand, her gains began to flag. After surgery and learning how to live with the nerve damage, she got back to her routine. “It takes being careful so you don’t fall back,” she said. “I remind myself that I’m still here, how I got here and why I got here, and how I lost the weight. “And I’m not going back.” Ready to join Amanda and Go For Bold? Visit healthywashingtoncounty.com to learn more and sign up.

Meritus Health hosts inaugural Case Competition

February 19, 2024

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Last week, Meritus Health hosted its first annual Case Competition for master’s in health administration/public health students from across the country.    Maulik Joshi, Dr.P.H., president and CEO of the Meritus Health notes that “these students will be the leaders of tomorrow. Giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge using real-world data and interacting with senior leaders just makes them stronger and the future brighter.” On an annual basis, Meritus hosts almost 1,000 students through rotations. How was the competition set up? In total, six teams from universities across the country (from Alabama to West Virginia) attended the two-day event, hosted on the Meritus campus. This year’s winning team was from the University of Kentucky. Each team was provided the same assignment: To respond to a case from Meritus Health senior leadership by giving two or three innovative strategies and actions to improve rural health outcomes in Washington County, Md., and counties in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The solutions they suggested ranged from improving mental health to increasing healthcare access for historically disadvantaged populations. The teams were given 20 minutes each for their presentation and 15 minutes for questions and answers with the senior leaders, who judged the competition. The criteria ranged from content to team dynamics. During their time in Hagerstown, the students also learned more about Meritus Health by rounding in the hospital and spending time with senior leaders. How does Meritus support graduate student education? The competition is another way Meritus continues to focus on supporting graduate student education. The health system has an administrative fellowship program for those with master’s degrees in business administration, healthcare administration, public health, nursing administration or an equivalent degree program. The fellowship provides significant engagement with the Meritus Health senior leadership team and is an immersive, hands-on fellowship with tremendous opportunity for learning and professional development in addition to leadership of and participation in systemwide initiatives and projects. To learn more about the administrative fellowship program, visit www.meritushealth.com/careers/non-medical-team-members/administrative-fellowship-program.

Go for Bold helps Meritus employee take off pounds put on during COVID

February 16, 2024

Tammy Ware says that determination runs in her family. The clinical educator at Meritus Medical Center noted her father had a heart attack at 45. But through determination, he not only recovered but went on to run – and complete – five JFK 50-miler ultramarathon races. Her mother suffered two bouts with cancer. With the second, doctors gave her two years to live. Through determination and treatment, she made it eight. So, when Tammy, a mother of five and grandmother of 11, realized the weight she gained was exacerbating symptoms she was experiencing from multiple sclerosis, she was determined to do something about it. “I couldn’t walk very far,” she said, noting she would be out of breath and barely able to take another step. Through bariatric surgery and participation in Go for Bold – an initiative sponsored in part by Meritus Health to lose 1 million pounds as a community by 2030 – Tammy was able to shed 130 pounds since 2016 with 55 pounds from Go for Bold participation. “My goal is to see my grandkids grow up,” she said, adding that they range in age from 2 to 13. The Go for Bold initiative was started by Healthy Washington County, a coalition of public and private organizations with a mission to strengthen the health and wellness of our community and residents. The initiative was sparked after a Community Health Assessment found Washington County residents had high rates of chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, among others. To achieve the million-pound weight-loss goal, the initiative: Focuses on increasing physical activity personally and through fun and engaging community-wide events Incorporates mindfulness and stress reduction techniques into daily activities Offers nutrition tips and healthy recipes that focus on fresh fruits and vegetables Tammy’s journey started when she was diagnosed with MS in 2015, about five years after she started working at Meritus. However, she began to have symptoms starting in 2009. She went to cardiologists and pulmonologists at Meritus to get treatment for her heart and lungs. “But the weight was my own,” she said. She decided to consult Meritus Bariatric Surgical Specialists and underwent a sleeve gastrectomy. As a result of her surgery in December 2016, she dropped about 100 pounds. Through diet and exercise, things were going fine, until COVID-19 happened. She added back another 25 pounds. That’s when Go for Bold, started in 2020, helped her lose that weight and some. It was having to get on the scale once every two weeks that motivated her. “It held you accountable,” she said. She would exercise before or after work, visiting a gym or just walking 3 to 5 miles on the towpath at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. She also participated in classes and used tools Meritus offered in connection with Go for Bold. With the final push from Go for Bold, Tammy was able to meet her long-term goal: Weighing less than what she weighed when she got her driver’s license when she was 16. The whole process hasn’t been easy, but she credits the example set by her parents for her success. “You have to be determined,” she said. To learn more about the Go for Bold initiative, visit healthywashingtoncounty.com.

Meritus interventional cardiologist to see patients in Frederick

February 16, 2024

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Meritus Health will be offering interventional cardiology consultations in Frederick starting this month. Interventional cardiologists specialize in heart and blood vessel procedures using a catheter. There are a variety of reasons a cardiology patient may be referred to an interventional cardiologist, that include heart attack, heart valve disease, coronary artery disease and more. Mansoor Ahmad, M.D., FACC, FSCAI, will be seeing patients weekly beginning Feb. 19 at 310 W. Ninth St., Unit 10. Dr. Ahmad is board certified in interventional cardiology, cardiovascular disease, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology, physicians' vascular interpretation and internal medicine. He completed his residency at the esteemed Cleveland Clinic. Additionally, he further honed his skills through a fellowship at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. As time goes on, Dr. Ahmad will be joined by fellow Meritus interventional cardiologist Stephen Williams, M.D., MPH. Dr. Williams, a distinguished graduate of Harvard Medical School, is board certified in both general cardiology and interventional cardiology. He routinely treats patients with heart attacks and coronary artery disease and specializes in peripheral artery disease and vascular intervention. “We have a good group of cardiologists and interventional cardiologists who are providing world-class care,” Dr. Ahmad said. “We’re already seeing patients from Frederick here in Hagerstown, so it’s important to expand our care there.” By having office hours in Frederick, patients will be able to meet and speak with the doctor performing an outpatient procedure closer to home. This also prevents them from having to shuttle between doctors. “Our goal is to provide good care,” Dr. Ahmad said. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 240-458-3490 or visit MeritusHealth.com/Cardiology.

Early warm weather leads to early pollen count, Meritus allergist says

February 15, 2024

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — If you have been sneezing or wheezing this month, it might not be that cold that’s going around. Paul Mauriello, M.D., with Meritus Allergy & Asthma Specialists said he found tree pollen when checking his air sampler on Feb. 12. “This would be the earliest in the season that I have seen pollen in the 37 years that I have been counting,” Dr. Mauriello said, admitting he might have missed a spring over that time. “It’s a couple weeks early, by my records.” The reason for the early pollen count has to do with the environment, he said. The warmer weather in the first few weeks of February caused the trees – typically the first kind of pollen to show up for the season – to start budding. “Tree pollen is a temperature-related phenomenon,” Dr. Mauriello said. “Just a few nights of warmer weather, you'll have enough to get going.” Fortunately for allergy sufferers, the snow that fell in the following days cooled off the pollen production. But once the weather warms up again, the pollen will return, he said. “The trouble comes when the buds pop up in February and then it goes on and on chronically,” he said. So, is that runny nose from allergies or a cold? Meritus Allergy & Asthma Specialists sees the majority of its patients related to spring pollen, Dr. Mauriello said. If you’ve never suffered from allergies before, it’s likely you have a cold. “If they’re miserable this spring, and they’re always miserable in the spring, it’s likely allergies,” he said. However, it’s best to check with your primary care provider if the symptoms continue. Meritus Allergy & Asthma Specialists treat adults, children and adolescents for a wide range of allergic problems. To learn more, visit www.meritushealth.com/locations/meritus-allergy-asthma-specialists or call 301-790-1482.

Meritus, Flying Boxcars partner to continue building healthy community

February 13, 2024

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — With construction nearly complete on a world-class stadium being built along Summit Avenue, community partners are teaming up to run the vision all the way home. The partnership between Meritus and the Flying Boxcars is a natural fit, according to the organizations’ leaders. The partnership will place the professional athletes’ medical care in the hands of Meritus and will support and foster community engagement at events and gatherings. As part of the agreement, the stadium will be named Meritus Park. “Meritus Health has a long-standing tradition of caring for our community,” said Howard “Blackie” Bowen, Ownership, Hagerstown Flying Boxcars. “Not only does Meritus offer medical care to our region, they do so much more by supporting initiatives to build a sense of community, encouraging physical activity and engaging with community organizations. We couldn’t think of another organization’s name we’d be prouder to bear on our venue.” “At Meritus, our mission is to improve the health of the community,” said Maulik Joshi, Dr.P.H., President and CEO of Meritus Health. “We know that healthy communities are ones where there is an opportunity for neighbors to connect, gather and share a sense of pride. We are community obsessed at Meritus, and we know this partnership will help strengthen our community.” Meritus Park, in addition to 63 home baseball games per season, will host community concerts, fundraisers for local organizations, youth sporting events, and numerous other events throughout the year – providing families across the region the opportunity to experience events they otherwise had to travel out of the area for. Within the venue, Joshi shared that community members will see healthy menu options that align with the Go for Bold community challenge to lose 1 million pounds by the year 2030. “We can’t wait to see Meritus Park in full swing, where all neighbors are welcomed, cheering together and living healthily,” he said. “We are very excited to be partnering with Meritus,” Mr. Bowen continued. “Not simply for what it will mean for the Flying Boxcars, but for what we and Meritus Park will mean for downtown Hagerstown. We believe Meritus Park will be the centerpiece for the new, revitalized downtown district.” Meritus Health will serve as the Flying Boxcar’s official sports medicine provider, ensuring the players have routine physicals and wellness appointments, as well as orthopedic care, physical therapy, and access to other services as needed. “We have long shared that Meritus offers expert care, close to home. We don’t think anyone should have to travel away from home to get the care they need. We have top-notch physicians and specialists at Meritus that will ensure the team’s medical needs are fully supported,” Joshi said. Joshi noted that Meritus is expanding its sports medicine services to all in the community this spring by opening a new location in the Valley Mall. There, a dedicated sports medicine specialist, physical therapy teams, and an urgent care will ensure that local athletes of all levels have convenient access to these services. The location will additionally offer community education sessions on injury prevention, concussion care, and strength and conditioning courses. The Flying Boxcar’s home opener at Meritus Park is scheduled for May 3. For a full listing of games and community events, visit flyingboxcars.com.

Meritus CFO named a 40 under 40 for 2024 by Modern Healthcare magazine

February 12, 2024

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Meritus Health is proud to announce that Chief Finance Officer Josh Repac was recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of the 40 Under 40 for 2024.  This national program recognizes the healthcare industry's rising stars age 40 and under who contribute to a culture of innovation and help their organizations achieve and exceed financial, operational and clinical goals.  “Our inaugural class of 40 Under 40 demonstrates the wide range of talent needed in healthcare today and in the years to come,” said Mary Ellen Podmolik, editor-in-chief of Modern Healthcare. “They are the rising stars who will propel the industry forward with a focus on innovation, efficiency, affordability and compassion.” Meritus President and CEO Maulik Joshi, Dr.P.H., said Repac is deserving of the honor. “He is a financial expert who combines his deep passion for patient and community health with his strong business acumen to create an innovative and impactful leadership approach,” Joshi said. “Josh is the complete package.” Repac has helped Meritus improve its efficiency ranking by more than 12 spots, to become the second-most efficient hospital in Maryland. He’s also helped reduce overhead at Meritus by almost 15% in less than three years. He said the best part of his role is the opportunity to make a difference. “If our community members can’t afford care they won’t enjoy healthy or high-quality lives,” Repac said. “Working to reduce costs, look for innovative opportunities to improve our community’s health and working directly with some of our service lines helps our teams better serve our neighbors.  I’m honored to represent Meritus and honored to have been named to this list with so many other influential healthcare leaders.” Aside from finance, Repac’s role at Meritus includes him overseeing nutrition services, physical therapy and imaging services. He also is involved in the community, serving on the board of directors for Horizon Goodwill, Inc. He played an instrumental role in developing an innovative partnership between Meritus and Goodwill, which created a pathway to employment for pockets of the community that were underserved and established the Prospect Street Clinic, providing free care to vulnerable community members. The profiles of all the honorees are featured in the Feb. 12 issue of MH magazine and online at modernhealthcare.com/education-events/2024-40-under-40.

You can enjoy a fasnacht today, just in moderation

February 11, 2024

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — It’s Fasnacht Day! We know you want to snack on those potato-flour doughnuts that find their way onto plates the day before the start of Lent. But if you’re keeping your Go For Bold goals in mind, you might be telling yourself you can’t partake in the food fun this Mardi Gras. After all, a traditional fasnacht is made with sugar, salt and lard, all things not exactly known for being healthy. We say, go ahead and enjoy the tradition and celebrate Fat Tuesday — within reason. Meritus Bariatric Dietitian Hannah Dinterman, RD, LDN, suggests limiting yourself to just one treat. Or, if it’s a bigger fasnacht, try splitting it with a friend. “Eat it slowly and savor it, and then move on,” Dinterman says. “Don’t keep any leftovers sitting around.” So enjoy your sweet treat, but do it in moderation. To learn more about Go For Bold — the 10-year goal for Washington County to lose 1 million pounds by 2030 — go to healthywashingtoncounty.com/goforbold.

What does an interventional cardiologist do? What to know

February 11, 2024

It’s possible you don’t know what an interventional cardiologist is. To be fair, most people don’t encounter one unless they are having a heart attack and make it to the hospital. With February being Heart Month, we thought it would be a good time to spotlight the role of these specialized heart doctors at Meritus Medical Center. In 2023, Meritus expanded its cardiology services to include interventional cardiology. Mansoor Ahmad, M.D. FACC, FSCAI, is an interventional cardiologist and the Chair of the Department of Cardiology at Meritus Health. We asked him what the top three things are that people should know about his specialty. First, interventional cardiologists perform procedures on the heart itself. Among the most common is angiography, which involves using catheters to inject dye into patient’s blood vessels supplying the heart and scanning to find blockages. Another common procedure is angioplasty or stenting, which involves inserting a tiny balloon or a stent into the blood vessel to open a blockage. Interventional cardiologists’ work has been “a game-changer over the past 25 years,” Dr. Ahmad said. “Being able to open blood vessels quickly during a heart attack has led to a significant decrease in morbidity and mortality.” The second top thing is that anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack should not wait to get help, Dr. Ahmad said. The same goes for those experiencing milder symptoms, which could be a sign that blood vessels are partially blocked and a heart attack could occur. Symptoms include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or heartburn, among others. “We want people to seek medical attention sooner rather than later,” he said. “Do not ignore your symptoms.” The reason is there’s a small window to prevent the loss of heart muscle during a heart attack. The longer the time between the onset of symptoms and the procedure to open a blockage, the more heart muscle is damaged. “We like to say, ‘Time is muscle,’” Dr. Ahmad said, noting that the loss of heart muscle reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood, which leads to a loss of quality of life and sometimes heart failure. The third top thing to know is that interventional cardiologists don’t want to see you. That’s not because they’re not friendly people. It’s because they would rather you live a healthy lifestyle, reducing the risk of heart disease. “Your family history we can’t change,” Dr. Ahmad said. “But you can change your lifestyle, which does help offset genetics.” That means smoking cessation, eating healthy, controlling your blood pressure and exercising, among other things. All too often, Dr. Ahmad consults with patients after they’ve had a heart attack and goes over preventative measures. They follow the recommendations and see their lives change. But if they’d done those preventative measures much earlier in their lives, then it is likely he wouldn’t have seen them in the first place. “We don’t want to see people on our cath lab table,” Dr. Ahmad said. To learn more about interventional cardiology services offered at Meritus, visit www.meritushealth.com/services/interventional-cardiology.

Meritus physician leader, well-known pediatrician to see patients

January 30, 2024

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Meritus Health’s chief medical officer will begin seeing pediatric patients in Smithsburg starting in February. Dr. Anand Budi, M.D., who has served our community as a pediatrician for 30 years, said the additional responsibilities are important to his role as the health system’s chief medical officer. He will maintain his role on Meritus Health’s senior leadership team and provide outpatient pediatric care in Smithsburg. “To effectively lead physicians in our hospital and our community, it is very important that I also take care of patients,” he said. “Right now, we continue to need pediatric care and I’m thrilled to be able to provide hands-on care to our community once again.” Dr. Budi will see patients from noon to 5 p.m. Fridays starting Feb. 2 at Meritus Pediatric & Adult Medicine, 22911 Jefferson Blvd. in Smithsburg. Dr. Budi will maintain his duties the rest of the week at the hospital, including leading hospitalist and pediatric hospitalist teams at Meritus Medical Center. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit meritushealth.com/smithsburg, or call 301-824-3343.

Brook Lane and Meritus consider opportunities to partner

January 29, 2024

Supporting a growing community need for mental health services: Brook Lane and Meritus consider opportunities to partner, enhance care for region and state Mental health is an integral part of overall health – a sentiment many share as they work to educate and expand awareness about emotional and behavioral health conditions. As local health providers consider better opportunities to support the total health of patients and as the demand for mental health services continues to climb in our community and in Maryland, Brook Lane and Meritus Health are looking at ways an expanded partnership might allow for enhanced access to services within the tristate region and across the state of Maryland, and provide patients with more coordinated care between primary care, specialist and mental health providers. “Meritus Health and Brook Lane have a long tradition of partnering in our community to support the health needs of our neighbors. As we continue to look at the increased demand for high-quality and accessible mental, emotional and behavioral health care in our community and across our state, we see the strong value in two community organizations, who share similar values, working more closely together,” said Meritus Health President and CEO, Maulik Joshi, Dr.PH. Joshi said Meritus Health and Brook Lane have successfully partnered on many initiatives. In September 2023, the health providers worked together to open a mental health urgent care on the Meritus Health Campus off Robinwood Drive in Hagerstown. Further, to improve the integration and coordination of patient care, especially for those with mental health needs at Meritus Medical Center, there is an ongoing initiative to align our electronic health records systems for interoperability, resulting in seamless and connected healthcare services.  “We looked at the need in our community and across our state and found a way to share resources in order to quickly support that need,” Joshi said.  “We understand the strength in working together, and are excited to consider the opportunities for our patients if we take our partnership to a higher level.” Joshi noted that the next steps forward in exploring this partnership include a period of formal due diligence, the development of a definitive agreement, and regulatory review. He and Brook Lane CEO Jeffery D. O’Neal, MBA, LCPC, FACHE have been considering how they can utilize the strengths of their respective organizations to better fill the current and future mental health needs across the region and the state. "Meritus and Brook Lane share community-centric values and a vision for making our neighbors healthier," O’Neal said. "By considering a formal partnership with Meritus, we would be ensuring that access to mental health care continues, and we are combining the talents and dedication of our great teams." Joshi and O’Neal agreed they would be transparent with the community about progress towards this partnership, sharing updates with the public and highlighting timeframes as they become available.  At present, they expect the partnership could take form over the summer when the Due Diligence process is complete and if approved by both Boards. 

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