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Patients welcome restart of St. Joseph cardiac rehab program

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Consistent support and increased safety precautions were key to maintaining patients’ confidence in Penn State Health St. Joseph’s cardiac rehabilitation program during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the days leading up to March 24, when St. Joseph temporarily suspended cardiac rehabilitation services, staff had already begun to adjust procedures in response to COVID-19 and share their efforts with patients. That communication continued during the program suspension, easing the transition for patients when it resumed on May 11 after receiving the green light from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“We reached out to patients once every week, making sure they were walking, staying healthy and reminding them that we were planning to reopen,” explains Allison Cannon, exercise physiologist. They also shared details of the new guidelines that would be in place once the rehab program reopened. “As a result, all our patients re-enrolled except for those who had almost completed the program prior to COVID. None had significant safety concerns.”

Knowing that St. Joseph was screening participants for illness, requiring masks, cleaning equipment after each use, encouraging frequent hand-washing and limiting one patient per therapist helped to ease the transition.

“Before we closed, it was more of a concern. There was the fear of the unknown,” Cannon says. “As time has gone by and it’s our reality, people are becoming more used to it. They are concerned, but it’s not as overwhelming as it once was.”

For many participants, restarting the program meant a return to normalcy, according to Rhea George, a cardiac rehabilitation nurse.

“They’re just happy to be here and appreciate the fact that we are up and running,” George says. “They say this was a way to get a little bit of normalcy back in their lives.”

When Roger Kofroth got the call that the program was restarting, he didn’t hesitate to return, having complete confidence in the program’s new safety procedures.

“I believe they wouldn’t tell me to do it if it wasn’t safe,” he says of the program’s staff. “When I’m done with each piece of equipment, I sanitize my hands so I’m not transferring germs. We all wear masks. We don’t get our water at the dispenser. The staff gets it for us. I think everything they’re doing here is really good work.”

In addition to the patients who returned to the program, the number of new enrollees continues to grow, reinforcing that the steps staff members took to reassure patients are working.

“We started 11 new patients since we reopened and have five more set up for next week already,” says Cannon. “Obviously, those numbers show that people are willing to get back to what they need to do to take care of themselves and get on with their lives.”

A man sits at an arm bike with his arms in the pedals. A woman exercise physiologist look at a monitor as she connects him to a heart monitor. Both are wearing face masks.

Patients in St. Joseph’s cardiac rehabilitation program benefit from the one-to-one ratio with staff that is adhered to during the pandemic. Pictured from left are patient Roger Kofroth and Rhea George, a registered nurse.

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