Wound center opens in Waterford

Waterford - The first patient to use the new hyperbaric chamber at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital's new wound care center spent Tuesday morning lying comfortably inside the oxygen-pure tube, watching the comedy "Meet the Parents" on a television screen visible through the Plexiglas cover.

He was taking advantage of the newest addition to the region's medical services, a form of medical treatment that is perhaps one of the most outwardly benign, without needles, discomfort or surgical tools.

"It's very similar to if you were going for an airplane ride," said Robert Barcelona, hyperbaric technician, after talking with the patient through a telephone on the outside of the chamber. "An airplane is just like a big hyperbaric chamber."

The Lawrence & Memorial Wound & Hyperbaric Center, located next door to the hospital's outpatient rehabilitation services facility at the Waterfall Plaza, opened a week ago after a $1.3 million investment in renovations and equipment. It has five specially equipped wound treatment rooms, where patients with hard-to-treat injuries receive care from teams of wound care nurses, therapists and physicians, plus two hyperbaric chambers that are the centerpieces of the new facility. The center is expected to treat about 30 patients a week.

There are about 15 other facilities with hyperbaric chambers statewide, according to Lorna Conahan, care manager at the center, but only one other in eastern Connecticut, at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. Medicare provides coverage for hyperbaric treatments for 16 different diagnoses.

"Having this service available is what makes this a full-service wound center," said Dr. Terence Navin, medical director of the center and a physiatrist - a rehabilitation physician who treats injuries or illnesses to nerve, muscle or bone that affect movement.

A non-healing wound, Navin said, occurs when a patient's body stops its natural healing process and accepts a wound as a normal condition.

"We try to change that," he said. "We try to stimulate that wound back into an acute wound that wants to heal. In common parlance, a lot of what we do is trying to trick the old wound into thinking it's a new wound."

In a hyperbaric chamber, he explained, patients receive treatments inside an oxygen-pure, high-pressure environment that stimulates healing by increasing blood flow and growth of injury-repairing tissue. It is particularly effective for patients with diabetic foot wounds and hard-to-heal surgical wounds, among other conditions.

"A urologist might only refer one patient a year here, but it could be a life-function changing intervention for that patient," Navin said.

In preparation for the opening of the new center, he has been meeting with a wide variety of medical care providers in the region - from dentists to primary care doctors, nurse practitioners, podiatrists, surgeons, oncologists and others - to let them know about the wound care services and hyperbaric chambers. Among the types of patients who might be referred to the center, either for general wound care treatment or for hyperbaric treatments, are those with radiation scars from cancer treatments, people with vascular and pressure ulcers, and burn and other accident victims with trauma injuries.

Conahan, the center's care manager, noted that the need for wound care services has been growing, due to the aging population, increases in rates of diabetes and other factors.

Crista Durand, L&M's vice president for strategic planning and marketing, called the center a "best-in-class, one-stop" wound care center to treat simple and complex wounds. "Wound care is an area of care that has seen tremendous growth in the past several years," she said in a hospital news release. "This new facility is L&M's latest way of meeting the needs of our patients."

j.benson@theday.com

WOUND CARE

The Lawrence & Memorial Wound & Hyperbaric Center

40 Boston Post Road, Waterford

(860) 271-4949.

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