Joe Gardyasz is the Business Record’s health & wellness beat reporter.Have an idea or tip? (515) 288-3338 ext. 249 |
Joe Gardyasz is the Business Record’s health & wellness beat reporter.

Have an idea or tip?
(515) 288-3338 ext. 249 |

Genetic counseling programs help families gauge risks

Research on genetic mutations that can lead to cancer or other diseases advances on nearly a daily basis. Through genetic counseling, a free service offered by the John Stoddard Cancer Center, people can better assess whether they have a higher risk for certain diseases and if they should consider getting a genetic test.

“If you know you’re at a greater risk for cancer, you can have the appropriate screenings,” said Anne Heun, the genetic counselor at Stoddard. “Or if you have a child diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, what does that mean for your child’s future for having children, or the chances of having another child with cystic fibrosis? I look at genetic counseling as a way of taking charge of your health.”

Stoddard began offering genetic counseling about a year and a half ago; Heun was recently hired to fill the position after the initial counselor left. She has a bachelor’s degree in genetics from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in medical genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Heun will work with patients and families in the areas of oncology, pediatrics and perinatology to identify genetic risks and to provide information and support to families with genetic disorders.

Mercy Medical Center also offers genetic counseling services for cancer, as well as for high-risk pregnancies through the Perinatal Center of Iowa based at Mercy.

Genetic counseling sessions usually take between one and two hours; typically, a family health history questionnaire is filled out prior to the session.

Drake expands pharmacy, Health sciences facilities

Early next year, pharmacy and health sciences students at Drake University will have a new collaborative learning space on campus, with the completion of the Morgan E. Cline Atrium for Pharmacy and Science.

Construction recently began on the two-level facility, which will connect Cline Hall of Pharmacy and Health Sciences with Harvey Ingham Hall and provide study space, faculty offices and an experiential learning suite. The ground floor of the airy glass-walled facility will house the Hy-Vee Student Learning Commons, which will be outfitted with multiple “collaboration stations” aimed at enhancing creativity and team-building.

“Our college as a whole has grown pretty significantly over the past few years,” said Renae Chesnut, associate dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “So there has been a need for more space, particularly a need for more collaborative spaces.” Though the commons area is still in the design stage, it will likely provide a mix of wired and wireless work areas with flexible seating, so that students can work together on their laptop computers with the capability of projecting onto large screens, she said.

The atrium facility is primarily funded by a $3 million gift from Morgan Cline, a 1953 pharmacy school graduate, as well as the Roy J. Carver Trust and a number of other donors. Hy-Vee Inc. last week announced a $300,000 naming gift for the Hy-Vee Student Learning Commons.

Drake and Hy-Vee have a long-standing history of collaboration. Since 2006, more than 450 Drake pharmacy and health sciences students have worked at 45 Hy-Vee pharmacy sites as interns, and in the past decade, more than 80 pharmacy graduates have started their careers at Hy-Vee.

Donations for the Cline Atrium are part of more than $113 million in gift commitments to distinctlyDrake, the university’s $200 million fund-raising campaign.

Four health systems, one alliance

In a move to lower costs and improve quality, four existing Iowa health-care systems have formed a statewide alliance known as the University of Iowa Health Care Alliance (UIHA).

The alliance, made up of Mercy Health Network, Genesis Health System, Mercy - Cedar Rapids and University of Iowa Health Care, includes more than 50 hospitals and 160 clinics across the state.

The alliance will focus on engaging patients in new ways to help them maintain their health to reduce their need for higher, more costly levels of health-care services. The four organizations have been working together in various ways for more than a year to analyze the changing health-care environment and to identify specific services that can be shared to create better value for patients. Examples of UIHA collaborative programs include:

• Strengthening primary care to ensure that Iowans have access to a “medical home” to receive preventive services.

• Assisting member hospitals and clinics in developing performance metrics and comparative reporting to support improvement efforts.

• Developing programs to determine and address the health status of communities served.

“ We believe by working together we can achieve the necessary expertise and size – the skill and scale – to be successful into the future and to bring real value to our patients and communities,” said Dave Vellinga, president and CEO of Mercy Health Network, which is based in Des Moines.

Farrell’s FitStart offers low-impact program

Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping has developed a low-impact workout program specially designed for people who are morbidly obese or who have limited mobility due to joint replacements. The program, called FitStart, has caught the attention of local physicians, who have referred patients to the program, said owner Lance Farrell.

The idea for the modified exercise program came about after Dr. Nate Brady, at the time the lead bariatric surgeon for Iowa Health Weight Loss Clinics, approached Farrell to see what was available for his patients as an alternative to surgery. More than 300 people have enrolled in the classes since October 2011, and most of Farrell’s Greater Des Moines locations now offer the program. Farrell’s plans to offer the program to its franchisees around the country as well. The workout program, which is paired with a nutrition program, has been modified to eliminate jumping, has a lower target heart rate and even provides benches on which participants can sit if need be.

One participant, 39-year-old Samantha Watson, said she lost 34 pounds and “lots of inches” after her first 14 weeks in the program. She’s now able to use both legs when climbing stairs, rather than lifting one leg at a time.

“When you’re overweight, depression and anxiety kind of run hand-in-hand,” Watson said. “So to be in front of a lot of people and feel like they’re thinking, ‘Wow, she really needs to work out’ is the last thing you need. So being in a group of people that are in the same boat with me has made it possible for me to go.”

The program’s main focus “isn’t the pounds,” Farrell said. “It’s teaching you how to live healthy and be at a better level of fitness.”