VCU Medical Center among first to receive prestigious accreditation

Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center has become one of the nation’s first medical centers to complete the Pulmonary Hypertension Association’s new accreditation program for Pulmonary Hypertension Care Centers. The goal of the program is to improve the outcomes of patients with pulmonary hypertension, a debilitating disease of the lungs that affects the functioning of the heart and can lead to right heart failure.

With symptoms that include breathlessness, fatigue, dizziness and chest pain, many pulmonary hypertension patients will see three or more physicians before they receive an accurate diagnosis. The survival rate for PH patients who go untreated is less than three years.

“We’re pleased that health care centers across the country are undergoing the rigorous review process to receive the special accreditation in the coming months,” said Murali Chakinala, M.D., from the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine and member of PHA’s Pulmonary Hypertension Association Oversight Committee. “In addition to providing lifesaving care for patients, these specialty care centers are a valuable resource for medical professionals, health insurers and families of people living with PH.”

“VCU Medical Center will improve the lives of more patients who know they have PH and many who have it and don’t know it.”

“There is an urgent need for medical institutions to accurately diagnose, treat and provide support for PH patients,” said Daniel C. Grinnan, M.D., associate professor of the Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine at VCU Medical Center. “Our hope is that the PHA accreditation raises our profile to help us connect with health care professionals throughout our community to ensure that more people living with PH receive the right diagnosis early and accurately and that they will get the very best care available.”

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Health System: VCU trauma unit saves Richmond’s gravely injured

An excerpt from the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The patient, a teenager shot on the streets of Richmond, came into the emergency room with a bullet hole in his abdomen and pleading for water.

“I want some water. Give me some water, please.”

His voice was strained but strong, loud enough to be heard over the commotion as doctors and nurses swarmed around him when the ambulance crew brought him into VCU Medical Center on a stretcher.

The night was young. Weekends usually are busy for VCU’s trauma center. This Saturday would be no different. By the end of the shift the next day, there would be two more gunshot victims, though not as serious as this one.

The patient’s question, “Am I going to die?” came later, on the way to the operating room.

Just minutes before, the trauma team had been paged to report to the emergency department. It was a code “echo,” the second-highest level of trauma. By the time the ambulance arrived, everyone was in place, waiting at one of the six bays set aside for trauma cases in the 72-bed emergency unit.


Brighter futures

Any parent of a child with serious health conditions knows how important access to top-notch care that is close to home can be in keeping everyone in the family healthy and sane during times of tremendous stress. When your child has 30-plus appointments a month, small details can make a huge difference.

Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center has long been dedicated to making things better for such families, and this month things are looking up for the region’s children in more ways than one.

December played host to several special events, all marking major milestones in VCU Medical Center’s continued commitment to advancing children’s health in the region. An announcement of an unprecedented gift to establish a pediatric cardiac surgery program in Richmond, a “topping out” ceremony for a new children’s outpatient facility and a groundbreaking of a new and improved pediatric psychiatric facility – all this December – highlighted Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s continued growth and dedication to improving pediatric care for the region’s smallest patients.

“At VCU, we are most proud of our continuing investments in children’s health care,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health System. “This commitment to advance our programs and capabilities for the region’s children stems from our desire to be the best partner with the community we can be, as a research-focused, state-of-the-art academic medical center.”

CHoR announced today a gift of $28 million from Children’s Hospital Foundation that will be used to build a children’s cardiac surgery program. Such a program will allow families access to specialized heart services for children that have not been available in the region before now, and will prevent them from having to travel elsewhere for heart surgery.

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VCU begins construction of new children’s psychiatric facility

CHOR featureVirginia Commonwealth University Health System broke ground Dec. 11 on the new Virginia Treatment Center for Children pediatric psychiatric facility that will provide increased access to clinical care for children from across the state.

The new state-of-the-art pediatric behavioral health center will replace the current 50-year-old facility located on VCU Medical Center’s downtown campus, and will feature technology and architectural designs tailored to creating a therapeutic environment. Patient areas were designed to meet the age-specific, special needs of children and adolescents and to support the needs of families.

Slated to be completed by fall 2017, this 32-bed facility will be almost 120,000 square feet and will house inpatient units, outpatient behavioral health office, a Children’s Mental Health Resource Center and the Commonwealth Institute for Child and Family Studies, the research arm of VTCC. The facility will be constructed on the Brook Road Campus of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, 2924 Brook Rd.

VTCC provides services for children and adolescents with mental health issues ranging from depression and ADD/ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorder and behavioral problems at home and school. Last year, VTCC had approximately 950 inpatient admissions for children between the ages of 3 and 17, and more than 7,600 outpatient visits.

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Medicine: An underdog disease finds a champion

Forence Neal Cooper-Smith (M.S.’85/M) became aware of sickle cell disease in 1942, 34 years after the first known case presented itself in the United States.

Her lifelong dedication to the disease began during a routine childhood trip to the family doctor. During her visits, she often waited in the doctor’s office rather than in the waiting room. Once, she found a book to read and stumbled on a few new words: hematology and sickle cell anemia.

“It hit me. Sickle cell was a disease in colored people, that was the terminology back then,” she remembered. “You were born with it, there was no cure and you died early. That stuck with me.

“When I asked my doctor about it, he explained that the disease affects the shape of red blood cells and you’re born with the anemia, but he didn’t know much more than that. I kept asking people about it. It never left me.”

Advancements have been made in the study and treatment of the disease in the century since it was first identified, but people of many races are still born with it, still die early from it and no cure exists.

Cooper-Smith hopes all of that will change in her lifetime. It’s hard to doubt her when she emphatically proclaims that she’ll raise a million dollars for research before she dies.

She has $725,000 to go.

Her grass-roots efforts — gaining support from churches, fraternal and civic groups, family and friends, for example — raised enough money to endow in May a professorship in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. Thought to be the first of its kind in the country and named in her honor, the milestone professorship supports aggressive research projects designed to discover lifesaving treatments and perhaps a cure.

Recently, a group of her friends organized the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Sickle Cell Research Committee to increase awareness about the disease and to raise money for research.

Cooper-Smith’s devotion to finding a cure includes years of community-based education and legislative work in Virginia as well as national networking through the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1969, she led a Richmond-area survey to gauge awareness of the disease. Only 3 in 10 people had heard of it. Two decades later, she pushed a bill through the Virginia legislature mandating statewide newborn screening for the disease.

“We call Florence the ‘mother of sickle cell in Virginia,’ and it’s definitely a term of endearment,” said Wally R. Smith, M.D., professor and vice chair for research in the VCU Division of General Internal Medicine at the School of Medicine and inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Trained as a medical technician, Cooper-Smith began her career at the Medical College of Virginia in burn research alongside E.I. Evans, M.D., in the early 1950s. Later, she met hematology professor Robert B. Scott, M.D., and the two collaborated to create the Virginia Sickle Cell Anemia Awareness Program, now housed at the Virginia Department of Health.

Even with a national reputation for her efforts, Cooper-Smith remains humble and hopeful.

“It overwhelmed me to hear that the professorship was going to carry my name,” she said. “I didn’t do anything other than move something along. I just want to keep the research going. We’ve got to find better treatment, management and care for the 100,000 people affected in the U.S.”

“In a way, we’re continuing Florence’s original community work through one of our current projects,” Smith said. “We find and bring into care patients with sickle cell disease who have not been seeking care. It’s as if we hand these patients a life raft.”

The life raft is hydroxyurea, an underutilized, under-prescribed anti-sickling medication approved for use in the late 1990s.

When explaining why the drug isn’t more widely used, Smith said, “It’s the curse of sickle cell. There are not enough doctors taking care of adults with the disease. Patients don’t trust the medical establishment and they feel rejected.”

It’s an uphill climb, but thanks to the funding the Cooper-Smith Professorship provides, he said, he and his VCU colleagues can continue that climb.

To learn more about the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship, contact Brian Thomas, interim president of the MCV Foundation, at 804-828-0067 or


Pharmacy: Alumni participate in VSHP Fall Seminar and Residency Showcase

The 2014 Virginia Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists Seminar and Residency Showcase attracted a number of VCU School of Pharmacy students as well as some familiar (and recent) alumni faces. Among the residency locations represented were Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News with Lindsay Fournier (Pharm.D.’14/P), VCU Health System with Natalie Nguyen (Pharm.D.’14/P) and WellPoint with Jeremy Landsheft (Pharm.D.’14/P).

Several SOP alumni are 2013-14 VSHP officers: Brian Baird (Cert.’01/En; Pharm.D.’03/P), president; Jerry Martin (B.S.’88/P; M.B.A.’01/B), immediate past president; Bob Stoneburner (B.S.’74/P) and Emily Dyer (Pharm.D.’07P), members at large. (If we missed anyone, please let us know! Email Ashley Street is president of SVSHP, the student chapter of VSHP, and the faculty advisor is Leigh Anne Hylton Gravatt (Pharm.D.’03/P).

See the entire VSHP roster, including regional officers and committee chairmen.

Medicine: Developing a safe and effective alternative to medicinal marijuana

In recent years, the use of cannabis in medical treatment has sparked a heated debate between state and federal governments. Although the federal government has banned marijuana — it is classified as a Schedule I Drug and a license is needed to possess it — some individual states have decriminalized it for medical use. A Schedule I Drug is defined as one with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. As of July 2014, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana and have set laws, fees and possession limits.

What if there were an alternative?

In time, there could be.

Researchers such as Aron Lichtman, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, are studying cannabis-like chemicals called endogenous cannabinoids that are made by the human body and brain.

For more than 25 years, Lichtman has studied the effects of marijuana and THC on the brain, and the long-term consequences of exposure.

Below, Lichtman discusses misconceptions about marijuana, defines cannabinoids and delves into his field of research. Ultimately, he hopes his work will lead to the development of a medication that shares the medical benefits of cannabis, but has been scientifically proven to be safe and effective to reduce pain and suffering in patients.

One of the main reasons patients may obtain a prescription for medicinal cannabis is to manage pain due to headaches or diseases such as cancer or chronic conditions such as nerve pain. What are the issues with medical marijuana as it stands now?

The problem with cannabis is that where it has been made legal, state medical dispensaries can prescribe it for any medical condition. Unfortunately, there are few studies that prove that cannabis is actually effective at treating a particular medical issue, although there are many claims about it.

Further, cannabis is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, or any other federal agency. There are no standardized guidelines in place for its use, and there is a lack of scientific evidence to support its use and long-term effects.

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Low-budget stroke campaign makes high impact at VCU

“Which beekeeper closet correct answer the pie?”

No, I’m not losing the fight with autocorrect (Though it does resemble the texts I’ve been receiving from my mother). The above text was actually featured in a newspaper teaser ad for Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center’s recent stroke campaign.

The Richmond, Virginia, medical center decided to participate in the National Stroke Association’s awareness campaign for in May for Stroke Month because of its region’s unique demographics.

Virginia is inside of the “stroke belt,” a region in the southeastern US that public health authorities have recognized for having an unusually high incidence of stroke and other episodes caused by cardiovascular disease. Additionally, 54% of Richmond’s population are African American—a demographic that has a 2.5 times greater risk of stroke than the Caucasian population.

“All of these factors contributed to the decision to participate in the national campaign for Stroke Month by supporting awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke,” says Cynthia Schmidt, chief of marketing for VCU.

“Since stroke is not a service that you can drive business to, we saw this very much as a public service campaign with the primary goal of public health education.”

Read more at Media Health Leaders.

A summer of real-life research

This summer, seven Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate research trainees are expanding their knowledge, mastering the skill of critical thinking and digging deep to find answers to their questions through real-life research in laboratories at partner universities across the country.

For the first time since the launch of the VCU Center on Health Disparities research training programs, students are venturing beyond the VCU campus to engage in hands-on learning at Brandeis University, Harvard University, University of California at San Diego, University of Michigan, University of Miami and University of Oregon.

Five of the students are current participants in VCU Center on Health Disparities research and training programs, including Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity Scholars program and Minority Access to Research Careers. Two of the undergraduates are future participants of the IMSD or MARC programs.

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Health System: VCU, Community Memorial Healthcenter celebrate affiliation

Wayne Parrish, chairman of the CMH Board of Directors; Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and the VCU Health System; Scott Burnette, CMH president and CEO

Wayne Parrish, chairman of the CMH Board of Directors; Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and the VCU Health System; Scott Burnette, CMH president and CEO

Representatives of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and Community Memorial Healthcenter (CMH) in South Hill, Va., signed an affiliation agreement on Friday to join operations on July 1. With the agreement, which was celebrated at a community ceremony and reception in South Hill, CMH is renamed VCU Community Memorial Hospital and is part of the VCU Health System.

The affiliation will expand the range and depth of health care delivery for residents of Southside Virginia and northern North Carolina. Under the agreement, the VCU Health System will commit a minimum of $75 million in new strategic investments in CMH, including a new hospital facility, health care technologies, clinical initiatives and physician recruitment.

VCU and CMH representatives addressed a crowd of nearly 300 leaders, employees and community members. Virginia Sen. Frank Ruff and Del. Tommy Wright were in the audience and were recognized for supporting efforts to improve health care in the region.

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