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Transportation assistance to cancer treatments

by Terri Coolong, leader of the PVH Cancer Support Group

 With all the emotional problems that come with a cancer diagnosis, there are also logistical problems to work through as well. We are fortunate to have a renowned cancer center only an hour from here, in Bangor, but even that distance can be a huge obstacle. Traveling down for weekly or biweekly chemotherapy appointments is bad enough, but what if you are scheduled for daily radiation? You may feel well enough to drive yourself, but many people don’t. Even with a great support group of family and friends, you might have difficulty getting a ride to your treatments.

There is help available. If you have had a cancer diagnosis and live in Penobscot or Piscataquis Counties, the Lynx Ride to Health can help ease some of the burden and stress. With funding provided by the Maine Cancer Foundation, Penquis/The Lynx can provide transportation assistance for medical treatment of cancer including chemotherapy, radiation, support groups and more. This service can pick you up at your home and bring you to treatment, or any service that is part of your treatment. Eligibility for this program is NOT based on income. For more information, call 973-3695 or 1-866-853-5969 and ask about the Ride to Health. You will need to call to schedule a ride at least 3 days prior to your appointment.

There are also low income transportation services available through Penquis. This requires an application be filled out before any services can be received. This program allows you to have a ride from a family member or friend and they will be reimbursed mileage. For more information about this service, call 973-3609.

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, another program called the Ride to Wellness can help. Susan G. Komen for the Cure sponsors these rides and helps defray the cost, along with Penquis and CancerCare of Maine. You can get either transportation services or mileage reimbursement for medical treatment of breast cancer, including diagnostic services, chemotherapy, support groups, radiation and more. Lynx volunteer drivers can pick you up at your home, or your family or friends can be reimbursed 21 cents per mile. You are also eligible to the 21 cent reimbursement if you are able to drive yourself to treatment. Again, there is NO income requirement. FMI, call the Lynx at 973-3695 or 1-866-853-5969 and mention the Ride to Wellness.

So don’t add transportation woes to add to the stress of your cancer diagnosis. Research has proven that maintaining as stress-free an environment as possible leads to a better prognosis.

Our Cancer Support Group meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, from 6 to 7:15 pm, in Conference Room B at PVH. The group is open to cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers. We often have guest speakers or planned topics but always allow time to address your particular concerns. Just remember, almost any problem you are having is one that others have had before, and the tips and tricks from those who are walking slightly ahead of you can make your journey more tolerable. If you have questions about the PVH Cancer Support Group, call 794-7149 and leave a message. Someone will call you back!

February is Heart Month

February 10- February is recognized as American Heart Month and staff at Penobscot Valley Hospital are working to spread awareness about heart disease. On Friday, February 6, staff participated in the national Wear Red Day where we sported our favorite fashions in the power color. Also during the day, PVH physical therapist Margie Butterly offered exercise sessions, teaching staff proper use of exercise bands and some simple exercises that can be done right at your desk any time of day. PVH is also featuring a display in the main lobby of materials from WomenHeart and the American Heart Association, so stop by for a visit and pick up a packet of heart health information.

We all know somebody who has been affected by heart disease and it seems more and more we are hearing about younger people, healthy individuals and even women suffering from a cardiovascular incident. We think, “how can that be, she was the picture of good health?”

Let’s set the record straight and debunk some common myths with information from the American Heart Association:

“I’m too young to worry about heart disease.” How you live now affects your risk for cardiovascular diseases later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries. One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease, but not all of them are senior citizens. Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems – especially now that obesity, type 2 diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at a younger age.

“I’d know if I had high blood pressure because there would be warning signs.” High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because you don’t usually know you have it. You may never experience symptoms, so don’t wait for your body to alert you that there’s a problem. The way to know if you have high blood pressure is to check your numbers with a simple blood pressure test. Early treatment of high blood pressure is critical because, if left untreated, it can cause heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and other serious health problems. Learn how high blood pressure is diagnosed.

“I’ll know when I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain.” Not necessarily. Although it’s common to have chest pain or discomfort, a heart attack may cause subtle symptoms. These can include shortness of breath, nausea, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck or back. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.

“Diabetes won’t threaten my heart as long as I take my medication.” Treating diabetes can help reduce your risk for or delay the development of cardiovascular diseases. But even when blood sugar levels are under control, you’re still at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. That’s because the risk factors that contribute to diabetes onset also make you more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. These overlapping risk factors include high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity and smoking.

“Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.” Although people with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, you can take steps to dramatically reduce your risk. Create an action plan to keep your heart healthy by tackling these to-do’s: get active; control cholesterol; eat better; manage blood pressure; maintain a healthy weight; control blood sugar; and stop smoking.

“I don’t need to have my cholesterol checked until I’m middle-aged.” The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20. It’s a good idea to start having cholesterol tested even earlier if your family has a history of heart disease. Children in these families can have high cholesterol levels, putting them at increased risk for developing heart disease as adults. You can help yourself and your family by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

“Heart failure means the heart stops beating.” The heart suddenly stops beating during cardiac arrest, not heart failure. With heart failure, the heart keeps working, but it doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. It can cause shortness of breath, swelling in the feet and ankles or persistent coughing and wheezing. During cardiac arrest, a person loses consciousness and stops normal breathing.

“This pain in my legs must be a sign of aging. I’m sure it has nothing to do with my heart.” Leg pain felt in the muscles could be a sign of a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD results from blocked arteries in the legs caused by plaque buildup. The risk for heart attack or stroke increases five-fold for people with PAD.

“My heart is beating really fast. I must be having a heart attack.” Some variation in your heart rate is normal. Your heart rate speeds up during exercise or when you get excited, and slows down when you’re sleeping. Most of the time, a change in your heartbeat is nothing to worry about. But sometimes, it can be a sign of arrhythmia, an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can last long enough to impact how well the heart works and require treatment.

“I should avoid exercise after having a heart attack.” Not true! As soon as possible, get moving with a plan approved for you! Research shows that heart attack survivors who are regularly physically active and make other heart-healthy changes live longer than those who don’t. People with chronic conditions typically find that moderate-intensity activity is safe and beneficial. The American Heart Association recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity physical activity each week. Find the help you need by joining the PVH Rehab & Wellness gym, a cardiac rehabilitation program, or consult your healthcare provider for advice on developing a physical activity plan tailored to your needs.
The American Heart Association reports that a whopping 80 percent of cardiac events could have been prevented with education and lifestyle changes! Think about making small steps toward healthy lifestyle choices. What can you do now to improve your eating habits, exercise routines or other actions like quitting smoking? A few small steps now can have a big impact down the road!

“It is very important for people to know their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and risk of developing diabetes. Speak with your primary care physician to learn what these numbers mean to you,” states PVH family practice physician Carl Alessi, MD.

Remember to stop by PVH during the month of February to pick up your cardiovascular health materials including some great recipe ideas. For more information, visit or the Penobscot Valley Hospital website at

PVH staff members sported red fashions on national Wear Red Day to help increase awareness about heart disease among women. Pictured are (l to r) Monica Vanadestine, chief nursing officer and Christine Weymouth, administrative assistant. 

PVH Cancer Support Group

February 3 - According to statistics from the State of Maine and the American Cancer Society, Maine has the dubious distinction of having the highest incidence of cancer of all the states. Additionally, mortality from all types of cancer is significantly higher than the rest of the country, and lung, esophageal and bladder cancers specifically are much higher than the norm. Cancer deaths have now surpassed heart disease to become Maine’s number one killer.

By county, Penobscot ranks fourth in the state, with Hancock and Washington having the highest incidences of cancer, based on information from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aroostook County has a much higher incidence of colorectal cancer than the rest of the state. Penobscot County has significantly higher lung cancer. Washington County has significantly higher rates overall. These incidence statistics are from 2011, and mortality statistics are from 2010, the latest that are available in published form.

The top 4 cancers resulting in mortality in Maine are lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.

What explains the high incidence of cancer in Maine? Unfortunately, Mainers as a whole are leading unhealthy lifestyles that contribute strongly to cancer. Approximately 75-85% of cancers are thought to come from preventable risk factors.

Following are some of the areas where we could do better:
• Obesity: 30% of people in Maine are obese. Obesity has been implicated in esophageal, pancreatic, colon, kidney, endometrial and breast cancers. Losing just 5% of your current weight reduces the risk of developing cancer. Eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, while reducing intake of red meat and processed foods like lunch meat and bacon contributes to overall health. Additionally, our sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity. Taking a walk every evening before sitting down in front of the TV will not only offer some prevention for cancer, but also for heart disease.
• Smoking: Approximately 20% of Mainers are regular smokers, and a shocking 52% have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes. This is the third highest rate nationally. Everyone knows that lung cancer can result from smoking, but did you know that throat, oral, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, kidney, bladder and some types of leukemia are also tied to tobacco use? Obviously, quitting smoking and avoiding second hand smoke will reduce your risk of developing many types of cancer.
• Sun-worshipping: Skin cancer rates are skyrocketing, especially among younger women, who are more likely to tan than any other age group. Skin cancer deaths are rising as well. Avoiding tanning beds, using sunscreen and covering with hats and long sleeves during midday all help reduce the chance that you will develop skin cancer.
• Age: Only seven states have average ages over 40 years. Maine is the oldest state in the nation, with an overage age of about 43 years. Obviously, there isn’t much we can do about this one. Cancer rates rise with age, as the cells in our bodies break down and are not replaced as quickly as when we are younger.

So is there any good news? Yes! Part of the high incidence of cancer diagnoses might be explained by the fact that Maine is the third highest in the nation in having colonoscopies and tenth for mammograms. Although we have risky behaviors, we are also trying to take care of ourselves.

Overall, cancer rates have been dropping in both males and females since 2001. Colon and prostate cancer rates are dropping, and breast and cervical cancers are holding steady. Prostate cancer rates are lower than the national average.

Even if you are diagnosed with cancer, you have a better chance of surviving. Mortality rates in Maine have been dropping since 1993, except for lung cancer in women, which has been rising steadily since 1983. We are fortunate to have access to a cutting edge cancer center, Cancer Care of Maine, which is helping the statistics in Penobscot County. For more information on cancer statistics, visit and search for the Maine CDC.

The PVH Cancer Support Group meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month from 6:00 to 7:15pm in Conference Room B at the hospital. This group is open to both patients and caregivers. We have a Facebook page on which we try to post news of interest at Meetings this month will be February 10 and 24, but remember, if school is canceled due to weather, we are too!


New opportunities ahead for Dr. David Dumont

January 13 - Penobscot Valley Hospital chief medical officer and chief of emergency medicine Dr. David Dumont announced plans to resign effective April 2015 and will relocate to the Brunswick area.

Dr. Dumont has accepted a hospitalist position at Mid Coast Hospital, a 110-bed facility including a 12-bed intensive care unit serving approximately 100,000 residents in the mid coast area.

“Ultimately, the decision to move is tied directly to family. Melanie and I look forward to being in closer proximity and spending more time with them,” states Dumont. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with and providing healthcare for the people in Lincoln, and plan to support Penobscot Valley Hospital even after I leave.”

Dr. Dumont started his career in Lincoln as a family practice physician over 25 years ago, also acting in various roles at PVH including emergency medicine, chief of medical staff, chief medical officer. He transitioned from primary care to the facility’s first hospitalist in 2006, and most recently successfully recruited a full team of PVH employed physicians to staff roles in the emergency department and hospitalist program.

“I leave Penobscot Valley Hospital knowing the facility is in a good place,” adds Dumont. “There is a great leadership team who is enthusiastic about implementing change for the better and a strong group of physicians who truly care about the community. The area is lucky to employ so many skilled healthcare workers which allows me to leave with peace of mind.”

“Dr. Dumont has been a pillar in our community and the Board regrets seeing him go,” states PVH board chairman Fred Woodman. “Dumont’s resignation is one of a handful of leadership transitions currently taking place at PVH but we assure you that the hospital is in a good state. The Board and staff remain unified in our commitment to quality, safety and serving the healthcare needs of our community.”

PVH chief executive officer Gary Poquette added, “The Board of Directors, medical staff and employees of Penobscot Valley Hospital are extremely appreciative of all Dr. Dumont has done to improve the health of our community. We wish the entire Dumont family well in their future endeavors.”

David Dumont, M.D. plans to leave the Lincoln community in April to be closer to his family. 


Flu Vaccine Still Recommended for All

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that influenza is on the rise in some parts of the country. They are seeing predominantly influenza A strains which have historically lead to more hospitalizations and higher mortality. 



During the week ending November 22, 1,123 (91.4%) of the 1,228 influenza-positive tests reported to CDC were influenza A viruses and 105 (8.6%) were influenza B viruses.

The CDC is also reporting that this year’s influenza vaccine is “like” 48% of the viral characteristics being seen in those infected with influenza A. This means over 50% of those infected with the predominant strain of flu has drifted from that covered in the influenza vaccine.

“An annual flu vaccine is still the single best way to prevent serious illness,” states Infection Prevention Practitioner at PVH Sherry McCafferty. “Historically when a virus has “drifted”, the flu vaccination has still been found to provide some protection inreducing the likelihood of severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death. Vaccines also offer protection against circulating influenza strains that have not undergone significant antigenic drift from the vaccine viruses.”

The influenza vaccine being given out at PVH contains four influenza viruses—an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses. Therefore, even if vaccine effectiveness is reduced against drifted circulating viruses, thevaccine will protect against non-drifted circulating vaccine viruses. Further, there is evidence to suggest that vaccination may make illness milder and prevent influenza-related complications. This occurs when antibodies created through vaccination will often“cross-protect” against different but related strains of influenza viruses.

McCafferty adds, “In addition to getting vaccinated, you can take everyday preventative steps like staying away from sick people and washing your hands often to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading the virus to others.”
Anyone with influenza-like illness who might be at high risk for complications should seek care promptly to determine if treatment with influenza antiviral medications is warranted. People at high risk for flu complications may include pregnant women, people with asthma, diabetes or heart disease, people who are morbidly obese and people older than 65 or children younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than 2 years.

The flu vaccine usually takes two weeks to fully develop antibodies once administered, so clinicians recommend getting yours early. Contact your primary care provider or local pharmacist for more information on scheduling an appointment to receive your vaccine. More information on the flu is available at

BREAKING NEWS: HAN & PVH Make a Difficult Decision to Close Obstetrics Service

After many months of careful deliberation, the Boards at both Health Access Network and Penobscot Valley Hospital have made the difficult decision to discontinue labor and delivery services at the Lincoln hospital. The obstetrical service will close effective May 1, 2015.

This decision was made after extensive review of area demographics, obstetrical volumes, cost and staffing. With less than 70 babies delivered at PVH in 2013, an aging population, the negative financial position of the OB service, and changes in physician practices, the organizations recognized there was no other feasible option but to discontinue this service.

“This decision was not made lightly,” notes PVH Chief Executive Officer Gary Poquette. “Multidisciplinary committees and consultants have reviewed the labor and delivery service, and our community just doesn’t have a sufficient number of newborns to sustain this service. That fact, combined with the recent physician decisions, leaves us no other choice.”

PVH is one of only a dozen Critical Access Hospitals in the state still currently providing labor and delivery services. Many have exited the business for similar reasons, attributing their decisions to financial constraints, decreased demand, and difficulty recruiting and maintaining clinical staff.

Penobscot Valley Hospital will likely never get out of the baby business entirely. “Some babies just can’t wait,” states PVH Chief of Emergency Medicine and Chief Medical Officer David Dumont, MD. “Their moms present to the emergency department [ED] in the final stages of labor. Although not ideal, our ED is trained to perform deliveries in emergent situations and will maintain equipment on-hand to provide initial care for a newborn and the mother.”

“Childbirth itself is a very small part of the overall pregnancy experience. Our family practice providers at Health Access Network will continue to provide comprehensive prenatal and postnatal care to patients in our area and will work closely with the provider who will be performing delivery,” adds HAN Chief Executive Officer Bill Diggins, RN.

The two organizations would like the community to know:
Health Access Network physicians are personally contacting all current OB patients to discuss their options for prenatal care and delivery.
Health Access Network will continue to provide prenatal care to women through their family practice physicians.
Penobscot Valley Hospital will continue to conduct prenatal testing in the laboratory and ultrasounds in the imaging department.

Health Access Network and Penobscot Valley Hospital are working resolutely with area facilities including Eastern Maine Medical Center to enhance access to their OB providers and ensure a smooth transition of care for all local women.

Mr. Poquette reiterated that “the hospital is committed to provide local access to quality care for the residents of the Lincoln Lakes Region. We hope to be able to continue providing seamless care for OB patients, who can receive excellent prenatal care locally and an excellent delivery experience at EMMC.”

“Our obstetrical, family medicine, surgical and pediatric providers as well as clinical staff have all given outstanding care to the community since the hospital opened,” adds Dumont.

The public is welcome to attend a Community Forum on Wednesday, December 3 at 6:00pm in the Mattanawcook Academy Cafeteria. Representatives from both Health Access Network and Penobscot Valley Hospital will be on-hand to address the community’s concerns on the obstetrical service closure and provide information to patients on the transition of care. For more information, contact Penobscot Valley Hospital Administration at (207) 794-3321. 


Preventing the spread of infectious disease

There is no avoiding the topic of infectious disease in the media these days. News coverage on Ebola, enterovirus, influenza and other super bugs has us all on high alert. Here at Penobscot Valley Hospital, infection prevention is always a top priority, and we take time during National Infection Prevention Week from October 19-25 to celebrate all that our staff do to keep the facility and patients safe.

Earlier this month, I sat down with our Lead Environmental Services Technician, Linda Hollified, who explained a new quality assurance method she’s implemented to test the effectiveness of cleaning products before switching suppliers. Linda’s project involves use of the Glo Germ product, a safe tool that casts a revealing glow under a special UV light.

After a patient has been discharged, the PVH Environmental Services Team goes to work wiping down all surfaces in the room before admit the next patient. Sometimes, Linda will enter the room before the staff to place her special Glo Germ solution on at least ten surfaces of the room. Staff will then fully disinfect the room which takes two members around one hour, and they note whether they used the current wipes or new samples they are testing. After, Linda returns with the UV light to test the effectiveness of the wipes and see if any of the Glo Germ powder resides on the surfaces. Her project showed an improved effectiveness with the new wipes and so the team has implemented new methods of cleaning the facility based on what type of infection we might be facing.

“The Environmental Services Team at PVH is a wonderful group of dedicated individuals who keep our facility shining. Their standards and expectations are exceptional. They take pride in performing specialized cleaning methods to disinfect each type of pathogen according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations,” states PVH Infection Prevention Practitioner Sherry McCafferty, RN.

PVH staff members also work to prevent infection by:
- Vaccinations – For example, PVH was recognized by the Maine CDC for our exceptionally high number employees receiving the influenza vaccination. At PVH, 96% received influenza vaccinations, well above the national average of 66.9% as reported by the CDC for 2011-2012 flu season.
- Observations – Staff members pose as “mystery shoppers” and record clinical staff performing proper hand hygiene methods including hand washing before and after patient contact. Recent observations recorded in July 2014 were at 98.9%, well above the CDC’s national hand hygiene rates of 56.6% compliance.
- Precautions – If you are visiting a patient who has been placed on precautions, we provide free personal protective equipment and instructions on the outside of the door before you enter the patient’s room. Please follow all safety instructions to help keep yourself and our patients safe. If you are sick, please do not visit patients in the hospital.
- Education – We all work to minimize the spread of disease and post educational posters on hand hygiene and cough etiquette. We also visit schools to provide education to the students.

On October 9, McCafferty visited Robin Corbin’s first grade class at the Lee/Winn Elementary School to demonstrate proper hand hygiene. Students got to use the special Glo Germ to see how quickly germs can spread from your hands to your face, highlighting the importance of hand washing. The students also completed artwork which is on display this week in the main lobby near the Cafeteria at Penobscot Valley Hospital. We encourage you to stop in and see how our area’s children perceive germs.

PVH staff would like to remind the community that the best way to prevent the spread of infection is to perform proper hand hygiene using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and scrub for 15 seconds. Influenza season is here – the first diagnosed case in Maine occurred last week so if you haven’t already received your flu shot, now is the time. Contact your doctor’s office or visit one of our local pharmacies for your vaccination. Penobscot Valley Primary Care (including Drs. Alessi, Freid, Nobel, and PAs Bill Head and Revaz Boukia) patients may walk in to the Medical Arts Building weekdays from 8:30am to 4:30pm to receive their influenza vaccination. With infectious disease on all of our minds, take time to practice these basic prevention tips to help stop the spread of disease.

The Environmental Services Team at PVH (l to r: Nancy Guiod, Linda Hollifield, Rhonda Kimball, Missy Bean, and Sabrina Fogg) keep up-to-date on current infections going around in our community and implement various cleaning methods to prevent the spread of infection. (Photo courtesy of Penobscot Valley Hospital)

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