NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Archive for April, 2015

Pittsburgh Yogi Honored for Selfless Service

UPMC yoga therapist, Joanne Spence, has gained significant expertise teaching adults and children with mental health challenges the peaceful art of yoga over the years. Through her pioneering work with sharing and teaching yoga to Pittsburgh’s underserved population, Joanne has been one of 13 yogis nominated for Yoga Journal’s Seva Awards. To be nominated for this prestigious award, a yogi must have been volunteering consistently for at least eight consecutive years and have made progress against serious odds in a difficult situation.



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Using the Golden Rule to Save Eight Lives

“Do it for others. They’d do it for you.”

That golden rule is the message that the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health think will resonate best with Pittsburgh’s athletic elite – and convince them to sign up to be organ and tissue donors. It’s part of the Making Organ Donors Matter project funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to learn the best way to convince more people to consider donation.


On Friday and Saturday at the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health and Fitness Expo before the 2015 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, the group will feature the message at a booth designed to show potential donors just how easy it is to enroll. It’ll be the first of four race events this year where the project will seek to increase organ donation, while learning what works and what doesn’t.  Only 45 percent of Pennsylvania adults are registered as donors.

“We’re looking for messages that really attract people who are into health and fitness, but not registered as organ donors. How do you grab people’s attention so they can discover how easy it is to become a donor?” said Howard B. Degenholtz, Ph.D., associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy & Management. “Our initial research shows two messages do well generally: ‘Save Eight Lives’ and the golden rule. With people interested in health and fitness, the golden rule has the slight edge.”

In the U.S., more than 123,000 men, women and children are waiting for an organ transplant, and 21 people die each day because a donor wasn’t found in time.

“It takes 30 seconds to register as an organ and tissue donor – you do not have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and wait in line. In fact, at our booth, we have it set up so that you can sign up straight from your phone,” added Misty Enos, director of professional services and community outreach for CORE.

As an added bonus, visitors can have fun snapping strips of pictures at the project’s photo booth to post on social media. The group will also visit the GNC Liberty Mile in July, the Great Race Expo in September and the EQT 10-Miler in November, before returning to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon next May.

In addition to developing outreach messages suited to people interested in health and fitness, the project is exploring different messages for faith-oriented groups and more general events with a broader audience. The results will be shared to make future organ donation awareness events more successful.

CORE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting donation, education and research for the purpose of saving and improving lives through organ, tissue and cornea transplantation. The Department of Health Policy and Management at Pitt Public Health is dedicated to advancing the state of knowledge and enhancing professional practice of healthcare management in both the public and private sectors. To register as an organ and tissue donor in Pennsylvania, visit

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Standing Our Ground

The Attorney General earlier today alleged that both UPMC and Highmark violated the Consent Decree.  A careful review clearly demonstrates that there is no basis – legal or otherwise — for any of the Commonwealth’s misinformed claims against UPMC.

We also cannot agree that arbitration would solve the issues that divide Highmark and UPMC.  The Consent Decree required Highmark to arbitrate, on an expedited basis, its assertion that it can change the rates it is obligated to pay UPMC unilaterally.  Highmark then actively subverted and ultimately halted the mandated arbitration with litigation that the Commonwealth maintains “undermines” protections for seniors.

UPMC filed formal complaints with the Commonwealth twice last fall stating Highmark’s unilateral violation  would force UPMC to terminate the Medicare Advantage agreements for 2016.  These warnings were ignored by the Commonwealth, and it missed the opportunity to enforce the arbitration clause and get this issue resolved by the Consent Decree’s December 31, 2014 deadline. The April 1, 2015 deadline for Medicare Advantage contracting renewals also slipped by without action from the Commonwealth.

The termination of UPMC Medicare Advantage agreements with Highmark will not harm seniors.  They can expect to enjoy the benefits of more choice and competition and, likely, lower insurance premiums if they choose to stay in a Medicare Advantage plan.  Seniors always have the option of opting out of Medicare Advantage and, instead, can enroll in “traditional” Medicare fee-for-service.


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UPMC Uses Games to Keep Congestive Heart Failure Patients Out of the Hospital

Patients with chronic diseases are often inundated with education about their conditions.  But traditional education often fails to drive patients to make needed behavior changes.


That’s why UPMC partnered with SimCoach Games to apply the principles of gaming to congestive heart failure (CHF) to drive home the basic skills needed for self-management.  Nearly 25 percent of patients hospitalized with CHF are readmitted within 30 days across the United States, leading to financial penalties for hospitals. In FY14, the UPMC heart failure readmission rate was 19 percent. These readmissions often result from lack of patient engagement and behavior change by the patients after discharge.

With SimCoach, UPMC created an interactive game that patients (or family members) access on a tablet while in the hospital or at a doctor’s appointment. Players interact with and coach Simon, a character with CHF who was recently released from the hospital. Players are able to hear Simon tell them how he’s feeling that day, see how his heart and lungs are doing, and watch for fluid retention in his legs and lungs. To successfully complete the game, players must coach Simon for a week to track his weight, make sure he takes his medication and prompt him to call his doctor if he has any problems.

At the end of the game, players are given feedback on their coaching. Did they help Simon to complete the key behaviors?  Was he was readmitted to the hospital?

Videogames are structured in the way that adults learn best by giving the player a goal, making active participation crucial for success, showing the consequences of choices and giving feedback on the overall performance.

By immediately seeing how their choices impact the health outcomes of Simon, the players learn that there are skills they can apply immediately toward a healthy lifestyle and improved outcomes.

Feedback from a 2013 pilot at UPMC was used to make improvements to the game, with a new version launched in late 2014. Improvements included a simplified setup for nurses, ability to choose an inpatient vs. outpatient setting, and compatible versions for Windows and Android devices.

Version 2.0 is being piloted by transition care coordinators in some UPMC facilities, and a systemwide rollout is in development.  UPMC also plans to adapt  the SimCoach® platform to other chronic diseases.


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Resident at Seneca Manor Celebrates 105 Years

Mary Fisher’s birthday wishes didn’t include a party, but that someone write about her life.

She’s just turned 105, but don’t let Ms. Fisher’s age fool you. She stands under her own power and walks with only the assistance of her walker. Ms. Fisher attributes her good health to her lifestyle choices. “I never drank, I never smoked.”

A resident at Seneca Manor, one of UPMC’s four assisted living senior communities, Ms. Fisher is convinced that her busy life and active church involvement have also contributed to her longevity. “I’ve been busy all my life…I always had a good job,” she exclaims. From shoveling coal to keep her house warm during the Great Depression, to maintaining the different properties she came to acquire throughout her life, Ms. Fisher recollects her “rags to riches” story.

Ms. Fisher is proud to be a lifelong Pittsburgh resident. She won’t even entertain the idea of living elsewhere and calls Seneca Manor her home. “I like it here, especially the food.”

Mary Fisher

Located on Saltsburg Road in Verona, Seneca Manor Assisted Living Facility is picture perfect on a beautifully landscaped hilltop campus. The care residents receive at Seneca is tailored to each individual. Seneca Manor assures the best fit for its services to all residents, including around the clock nursing care and the preparation of daily meals.

Terri Brown, activities coordinator at Seneca Manor, describes the many activities available for residents — video game bowling to the age-old horse races. There is always something interesting going on and you’ll find a very vibrant Mary Fisher participating in Seneca’s activities and staying 105 years young!

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