By Richard S. Gubbe
The Rock River Times
When Swedish American Hospital started incorporating holistic medicine into its standard practices 15 years ago, an evolution of the Western medical world began here.
When Dr. Bill Gorski visited a progressive hospital in the state of Oregon two decades ago, he realized there was more to medicine than traditional tests and drug therapies.
The acceptance of holistic therapies needed to overcome two major obstacles before being implemented into a medical facility’s care: money for fund them and proof they actually work.
In the late ‘90s, Cathy Keith was the director of EAM Grant Administration and Holistic Health Services for Swedish American Hospital. Hired to evaluate and even dispel what were then considered alternative therapies, she, along with Gorski and Dr. Roger Greenlaw cleared a path for better health care practices. They integrated complementary modalities into standard medical practice in the same fashion as other prominent hospitals in the country.
Now a new breed of talent has emerged – someone trained in Eastern and Western healing modalities in a lofty status at the top of the management chain. Enter Dr. Kathleen M. Kelly.
“I just believe that many of us are not treating the whole patient for various reasons,” Dr. Kelly told TRRT. “We have been conducting research and have had an investment in holistic care since the late ‘90s. We actually have a department of holistic care and most of the services we have been providing are in the hospital setting and some in the clinic.”
Kelly is Swedish American’s chief medical officer and chief quality officer. On the way up she was the health system’s director of clinical integration and improvement, and was the medical director for Benchmark Health Insurance Company. She also practiced internal medicine at Swedish American Medical Group/Woodside.
Swedish American used money from grants to fund a department housed inconspicuously on the sixth floor. The program as well as its acceptance have grown gradually in parallel fashion, despite the evaporation of grant funds. And resistance to integrative medicine, due mostly to positive feedback, is waning.
“We have scorecards,” Kelly said of proving the effectiveness of non-Western practices. “We believe in measuring our effectiveness and making sure what we are doing makes sense for our patients.”
What was once considered “alternative” is now classified as “integrative.”
“I just believe in this wholeheartedly,” Kelly said. “We put a lot of research in.”
The results are proof that other modalities, some new, some old, can make a difference in the healing process.
“We have a long way to go but we are offering a free service,” Kelly said. “We have our CEO (Gorski) who has been willing and our board and leadership who have been willing to invest in it.”
Gorski told TRRT that the inception of the program stemmed from a visit he made to a hospital in the state of Oregon that offered alternative therapies in the early 1990s, long before Western research has backed up claims by therapists in massage, Reiki, aromatherapy, sound therapy and pet therapy.
State grants for hospital excellence and excellence in academic teaching programs ironically came from the tobacco industry insurance settlements, Kelly said. After that money dried up, funding came in-house.
“Swedish American continued its funding because we would have had a mutiny on our hands if we didn’t,” Kelly said.
Services are offered more for inpatient care. An emphasis on prevention, Kelly says, is the next step with insurance companies seeing the benefit of prevention and low-cost treatment options as “money better spent.”
Success of the programs also stems from observation and “lunch and learn” opportunities.
Kelly earned her undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Albany. She received her medical degree from Albany Medical College (N.Y) and completed residency training at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. She is board certified in internal medicine and is board certified in integrative holistic medicine.
She describes her role at Swedish American as “an administrative physician responsible for our systemwide care coordination and performance. I work with community partners with a goal of bringing together a seamless system of healthcare to the community.”
Dr. Kelly has held administrative positions with Kaiser Permanente (lead internist), John Deere Health Care (medical director), and Northern Illinois Hospice Association (volunteer medical director).
Kelly stays on top of evidence-based medical practices. She makes sure that holistic practices are backed by studies sponsored by such entities as the National Institute of Health.
“We had to have measurements,” Kelly said. “We have to impress everyone with our impact and effectiveness and that’s not an easy translation. We need more than anecdotes. We have a track record of performance.”
In 2013, Kelly received the Dr. Henry C. Anderson Quality Award, the organization’s highest expression of distinction and appreciation.
“I’m very passionate about our patients navigating the health care continuum,” Dr. Kelly said. “It takes a lot of work to get all of the different facets focusing on the patients’ needs. But we’re doing everything it takes to get that done.”
Kelly calls the Swedish American approach “refreshing. It makes me feel good about my health system and the patient getting that compassionate care that we like.”
The change to integrative medicine can be found in fragments in regional hospitals. Nationwide, however, the trend toward integrative is quickly gaining momentum.
“I do see that nationwide that the nation is more enlightened by the benefits of these therapies,” Kelly said. “They are much more mainstream than even 10 years ago.”
Integrative medicine is now part of the culture.
“We don’t say much about,” she said. “We just do it.”
The BetterLife Wellness program at the I.D. Pennock Family YMCA offers wellness educational programs, classes and support groups, screenings and health risk assessments, personal health coaching, weight management services, nutrition education and healthy cooking classes, freedom from smoking classes and therapeutic massage.
Kelly added that she foresees more training for staff in the holistic realm.
“We have clinically integrated (holistic medicine) into the care we provide in a very effective way,” Kelly said.
Swedish American uses a holistic nurse to provide consultations to develop care plans for patients. Other therapies include the following.
Therapeutic massage: Employees are certified and state licensed. Treatments are integrated into a hospital stay. “They provide a great deal of comfort,” Dr. Kelly says. “It’s a big program for stress reduction in a pre-surgical setting.” Chair massages for a family members also are offered.
Reiki Energy Treatments: Reiki energy work is used for a variety of needs such at anxiety and pre- and post-surgery requests. Scorecards are used to measure reductions of anxiety levels. “I think that with Reiki, I would like to see us use that more,” Kelly said.
Aromatherapy: Treatments are provided using Pure Essential Oils.
Music therapy: Relaxation programming from a library of therapeutic CDs creates music therapy “for more balance,” Kelly says.
Live music: The hospital provides a harpist “who comes into the hospital and performs throughout while music permeates all areas of the institution.”
Guided imagery: The program taps into the power of the imagination to help affect change, alter perception and help in pain management.
Art therapy: Licensed art therapists offer self-expressive art therapy such as drawing and painting to help those seeking self expression, particularly cancer patients and those who have suffered losses.
Journaling: The use of a journal by patients helps them express themselves in writing.
Animal Therapy: Pet use began five years ago. Registered therapy dogs and their handlers meet at outpatient care centers. “Animals soothe people in ways people can’t,” Kelly said.
Yoga: Yoga for exercise, breathing and meditation.