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COVID-19 and the Flu: Time to Arm Yourself with a Flu Shot

Posted on Sep 17, 2020 in Safety, Scroll Images, Uncategorized, Wellness

This fall, we could face a flu season like no other. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s possible to become sick with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. You don’t want to risk being infected with both because as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people infected with COVID-19 and flu may be more likely to be hospitalized with severe and sometimes deadly disease.

Getting a flu shot this season may also help conserve potentially scarce health care resources like personal protective equipment (PPE), and reduce the burden on healthcare systems as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For these reasons, it’s more important than ever to get the flu vaccine this year,” says Bill Isenberg, M.D., Sutter Health’s chief quality and safety officer. “As we await a vaccine for COVID-19, we very strongly encourage people to get flu shots to boost their immunity and protect themselves and the people they love from the flu.”

“Even without the added threat of COVID-19, getting a flu shot is one of the most important things you can do to help lower your risk for getting sick with the flu, avoid suffering through days or weeks of illness and help prevent spreading the infection to those around you, at home, at work and in the community,” says Sutter Health’s medical director of Pharmacy and Infection Control, Jeffrey Silvers, M.D.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized for flu, and typically around 50,000 die from it. A flu shot is important even if you’re staying home more—or working from home—because you still face potential exposure to the influenza virus, which you can then spread to others.

When should you get the flu vaccine?

“Timing is important,” says Dr. Silvers. “The CDC recommends people get vaccinated for influenza before the flu begins spreading in the community, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop and begin to provide protection.”

In the U.S., flu typically begins circulating in October. That means the ideal time to get vaccinated for flu is late September through early October.

“Vaccination is still beneficial as long as flu viruses are circulating. If you haven’t been vaccinated by Halloween or even Thanksgiving, it can still be protective to get vaccinated through December or later,” says Dr. Isenberg. “The influenza season usually peaks in January or February, but sometimes the virus is still circulating in the community as late as May.”


How can you get a flu shot?

  • The process to get a flu shot will be different this year because of COVID-19.
  • Vaccination at your Sutter-affiliated doctor’s office is by appointment only.
  • Existing patients can schedule appointments through the patient portal My Health Online or by phone beginning September 17.
  • Sutter Walk-in Care accepts walk-ins and scheduled appointments for flu shots, whether you are an established Sutter patient or not.


Who should get this year’s flu shot?

  • For nearly everybody, getting an annual flu shot remains the first and most important step to help prevent the spread of the flu—you don’t want to get the flu and COVID-19.
  • Getting the flu shot is especially important for people in high-risk groups: pregnant women, elderly, children under five and those with other health conditions.
  • The CDC recommends everyone six months and older get a flu shot every year.
  • The CDC recommends a flu shot for all women who are pregnant during flu season. (Pregnant women should not receive the nasal spray vaccine.)

Make sure kids are up to date on vaccinations

Dr. Isenberg says it’s also a good idea, before flu season is in full swing, to make sure children are up to date on their vaccinations including chickenpox, Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DTaP), Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and Polio.

“Now is an ideal time to visit your child’s pediatrician, before the annual flu kicks in and pediatricians’ offices are inundated with sick children,” says Dr. Isenberg.

To find a Sutter primary care physician, click here.

Is it safe to go to the doctor’s office or Sutter Walk-In-Care?

Sutter Walk-In Care centers and Sutter-affiliated doctor’s offices have taken several steps to help minimize spread as the pandemic continues. These measures include mandatory masking for patients and visitors, performing extra cleaning and disinfecting, and screening employees before each shift.

Protect yourself and your family. Get a flu shot.

Project Connects Clinics Serving Most Vulnerable with Health Systems, Specialists

Posted on Sep 16, 2020 in Community Benefit, Expanding Access, Health Equity, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

Pandemic underscores value of seamless connection. More than 2 million patient records shared with participating providers.

Coordination between health care providers can be crucial for patients’ health – and it’s even more important while caring for them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A newly completed electronic health record system is enabling primary care providers from Community Health Center Network (CHCN) health centers to better coordinate patient care, improve health equity, and manage population health for the vulnerable groups they care for in the East Bay. The project electronically connects the eight community health centers of the CHCN with local health systems and specialists.

The new system – powered by OCHIN Epic Electronic Health Record (EHR) and funded through generous grants from Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente– allows CHCN health centers to reliably and confidentially share patients’ electronic health records (EHR) with participating providers.

With more seamless collaboration between health centers, primary care providers, hospitals, and specialists in Alameda County, more than 270,000 patient records are now digitally accessible. Through this state-of-the-art EHR technology this is helping provide high-quality health care for the area’s most vulnerable residents.

“This new integrated system ensures that patients will have a seamless experience, while receiving the best possible coordination of their care,” said Ralph Silber, CEO of CHCN. “We’re already seeing the positive impact and transformative potential of the OCHIN Epic EHR, as it’s deployed across our network.”

First implemented at Axis Community Health, OCHIN Epic EHR is now available at all eight of CHCN’s community health centers with the last health center, La Clínica, launched in April.

“We were really pleased to be able to complete this deployment for CHCN, despite the pandemic, by offering full support for a virtual go-live at La Clínica,” said OCHIN CEO Abby Sears. “Now more than ever, we need to ensure frontline providers and public health authorities are able to exchange real-time health information and can respond quickly to the needs of their communities.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, health centers had to quickly adapt to caring for patients virtually. OCHIN Epic allowed CHCN health centers to quickly begin telehealth and video appointments so patients could continue receiving high-quality health care.

“OCHIN Epic is a powerful system,” said Sue Compton, CEO of Axis Community Health in Pleasanton, Calif. “We’re just beginning to explore its full capabilities, but the portal already offers more engaging features for our patients and more robust charting features for our providers, including both medical and Integrated Behavioral Health providers. It has strengthened our capacity to meet the complex needs of the patients we serve.”

The OCHIN Epic EHR also provides CHCN health centers with tools for data reporting and population health management, and offers a patient portal called My Chart, which facilitates patient communication.

To date, over 2 million patient records have been shared between CHCN health centers’ OCHIN Epic EHR and hospital/specialist EHRs. With full implementation, the system supports over 500 primary care, dental, and behavioral care providers who serve over 270,000 patients across CHCN’s network of care.

“Sutter Health is a longstanding partner of CHCN and its member clinics. We are delighted to expand our partnership through this vital initiative to improve care coordination between health care providers and to deliver comprehensive, quality health care for underserved communities of the East Bay,” said Emily Webb, vice president Bay Area External Affairs for Sutter Health. “Being connected through technology will support improvements in care for vulnerable patients at an especially critical time when the need is so great in our communities.”

“As a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve community health, Kaiser Permanente is pleased to support this important work,” said Kevin Hart, senior vice president, Strategic Development and Technology, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “We are investing and partnering in our communities to improve health care quality and access; helping build out the EHR among our safety net partners is key to this.”

The OCHIN Epic EHR is available at CHCN’s community health centers including: Asian Health Services, Axis Community Health, Bay Area Community Health, La Clínica, LifeLong Medical Care, Native American Health Center, Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, and West Oakland Health.

“I Should Have Known”—Identifying Suicide’s Warning Signs

Posted on Sep 14, 2020 in Carousel, Mental Health, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

A message from John Boyd, PsyD, Sutter Health’s CEO of Mental Health Services, during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

When I learned the news that I had lost someone to suicide, my first thought was, “I should have known.”

As a long-time mental health advocate and practitioner, I knew my response was the most common thought to cross the minds of those touched by suicide. I knew that family and friends repeatedly consider what difference it may have made had they known and intervened. I knew my years of education and training did not make me immune from this sense of responsibility and guilt.

It can often take a community to detect the warning signs that surface as pieces of a puzzle, appearing at different times and before different people. That people considering suicide are often afraid to speak up due to the stigma surrounding the mental health and addiction issues that most often lead to suicide. And while mental health issues are the most common reason for death by suicide, there are more hidden and less known reasons—financial problems, traumatic stress, relationship issues, the loss of family acceptance, academic failure and bullying.

This is why it’s so important that all of us learn as much as we can about the warning signs that lead to this irreversible outcome. National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month gives us all the opportunity to learn and share more.

We can all relate to struggling with despair and hardship. And there are specific signs that point to it all becoming too much for someone to bear—things like hopelessness about the future, sleep problems, withdrawal from friends or social activities, changes in personality or appearance, dangerous or self-harmful behavior, making preparations to put personal business in order, or threatening or talking about suicide. Mental health challenges are the leading factor, with 30% to 70% of suicide victims suffering from major depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, according to Mental Health America. The organization also notes that those with substance abuse disorders are six times more likely to complete suicide than those without.

Strikingly, this is an issue particularly common among healthcare workers who spend their days caring for others. Research cited by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates that one doctor commits suicide each day. Physicians’ suicide risk is higher than any other profession due to higher rates of anxiety, depression and burnout. Yet, due to long-held stigmas, it is often more difficult for healthcare providers to reach out for support, notes the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Studies show that this risk is only increasing as providers care for themselves, their families and their patients during a global pandemic. At Sutter Health, we make our physicians’ and employees’ mental wellbeing a top priority, creating awareness, providing resources and reducing the stigma surrounding speaking up and asking for help.

Coming Together for Human Health

In what ways do we—as a community—address these alarming facts? It starts with understanding that mental health is human health. We are all human, deserving of compassion and grace. It starts by each and every one of us talking openly, sharing our experiences and listening to others to break through the stigma associated with mental health and addiction challenges.

In sharing our stories and experiences, we can reduce stigma. In opening our hearts and minds, we can heighten awareness. Most importantly, in coming together with care and compassion for one another, we can work together to recognize when someone needs us most.

Crisis Lifelines

If you or someone you know is in distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or you can connect with a trained crisis counselor through the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

Sutter’s Electronic ICU Helps Hospitals Handle Influx of Coronavirus Patients

Posted on Sep 9, 2020 in Innovation, Scroll Images

COVID-19 is bringing new relevance to Sutter’s longstanding electronic intensive care units (eICUs) and to telemedicine. The integrated healthcare network’s two eICUs, one in San Francisco and one in Sacramento, enable it to provide hospitalized critical care patients, including COVID-19 patients, in both rural and urban hospitals with the safest, most advanced medical care—as well as expanding the system’s critical care bed surge capacity during the pandemic.

Tom Shaughnessy, M.D. and medical director of Sutter’s Bay Area eICU, says the program’s goal hasn’t changed much since its earliest days: “Making sure the sickest patients across the system’s geographically diverse footprint get access to specially trained nurses and doctors 24-hours a day,” he says.

Sutter’s innovative eICU program began in 2004 and the first of its kind on the West Coast.

Expanding Critical Care during a Pandemic

eICUs allow critical care doctors and nurses to check in on patients remotely using cameras, microphones, alarms and other monitoring tools. This approach not only helps protect on-site physicians, critical care nurses and other professional staff at the patient’s bedside, it also conserves precious personal protective equipment (PPE) and helps provide backup to caregivers who may be stretched thin at both rural and urban ICUs. Electronic ICUs have also helped increase critical care bed capacity in the event of a COVID-19 patient surge.

Read more on CNET.com about how Sutter’s eICU is helping the integrated network handle the influx of patients during the pandemic.

“If you choose to live in a rural community, it doesn’t mean your health should suffer because you don’t have access to the resources that you need,” says Vanessa Walker, D.O., a pulmonary critical care physician and director of the eICU for the Valley area of Sutter Health.

“Sutter’s eICU program has been especially beneficial to nursing staff at our smaller hospitals. [In this pandemic], they’ve had to take a crash course on managing incredibly complicated patients. Our eICU nurses have been there to help, whether it was for a second signature for medications to prevent further exposure or as a practical guide on how to place a patient in a prone position. The teamwork between the eICU and the bedside has been phenomenal,” she says.

Pre-dawn Cheers and Applause Buoy Spirits of Weary Firefighters

Posted on Sep 4, 2020 in Carousel, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, People, Scroll Images, Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center, Santa Cruz, Uncategorized

The town of Aptos is typically quieter than neighboring Santa Cruz, but last Tuesday that tranquility was broken by shouts of gratitude and applause for firefighters battling the CZU Lightning Complex fires – all organized by Sutter’s Lisa Haux.

“We made so much noise they could hear us across the highway,” Haux said.

Nella, age 8 and Clara, age 5 of Santa Cruz show
off the banner they made for the firefighter tribute.

The pre-dawn event that drew more than 100 community members was spurred by equal parts sincerity and serendipity, said Haux, a compliance officer with Sutter Health. “As part of the Sutter family, I’ve seen the salutes that our frontline healthcare workers have received from first responders – including fire, police, sheriff and ambulance units – thanking our nurses and doctors for their bravery and dedication to duty in the face of COVID-19. Those tributes were so meaningful to us, I thought we could do the same for the firefighters.”  

A small town has no secrets, and Haux learned which hotel was housing most of the out-of-town firefighters and that the end of their shift varied day to day, depending on firefighting conditions. “So I decided to organize a surprise early morning send-off, to lift their spirits at the start of their shift,” she said.

Haux quickly realized that firefighters – like healthcare workers – start work early. To catch the firefighters before they headed to base camp, the community needed to gather in the hotel parking lot, with their signs and balloons, by 5:45 a.m. “I honestly expected maybe 20 people would show up, given how early it was, so I was blown away by the response.”

The crowd was five times larger than Haux’s expectation and even drew reporters from the Santa Cruz Sentinel and KTVU. “When we started it was still dark outside, but we held our banners high as the sun slowly rose. It was awe-inspiring to see the turnout and see how heartfelt the appreciation was from our community to these brave professionals, risking themselves for strangers.”

Crews from across California filled the two dozen fire trucks that pulled out that morning, flashing their lights and waving back in thanks.

Stephen Gray, chief administrative officer for Sutter Maternity & Surgery Center of Santa Cruz and operations executive of Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz said that wildfire season is something we know all too well in Northern California.

“Several parts of our network, including our employees who live and serve in these communities, have been personally impacted,” Gray said. “We’re so happy to express our appreciation for the efforts of the firefighters to keep us safe, which helps us continue our mission of serving others.” 

A week later Haux still delights in how her community showed their spirit, saying, “Fire is a horrible way to bring out comradery, but it does show that people really do want to help each other, and we are all in this together.”

Colon Cancer Up Among Younger Age Groups; Screening Key to Early Detection

Posted on Sep 4, 2020 in California Pacific Medical Center, Scroll Images, Wellness

Actor Chadwick Boseman’s death from colon cancer at age 43 came as a shock. Following his passing, Boseman’s family shared that he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer four years earlier. Many headlines captured the public’s collective sentiment—Colon cancer? But he was so young!

Michael Abel, M.D., chair of surgery at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) and colorectal surgeon, says of the news, “When you look at a 39-year-old male in his prime who is coming in with GI symptoms and not feeling well, colon cancer would not be at the top of the list. That needs to change.”

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says the rate at which younger people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer is rising. Data shows the disease’s case rates have been increasing since the mid-1980s in adults ages 20-39 years and since the mid-1990s in adults ages 40-54 years. On the upside, data shows case rates among individuals 65 and older are decreasing.

“While the medical community doesn’t know why these rates are climbing in younger populations, physicians are now paying closer attention to this cancer,” says Dr. Abel.

Colorectal Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society:

• Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S.

• About one in 23 men and one in 25 women will develop colon or rectal cancer at some point during their lifetime.

• It is estimated that there will be 104,610 new cases of colon cancer and 43,340 new cases of rectal cancer in the U.S. this year.

• The rate of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer is higher among the Black community than among any other population group in the U.S.

For more information about colorectal cancer, visit here.

New Thinking on Screenings

In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended screening age for people with average colorectal cancer risk, i.e. no family history, to age 45. “More aggressive screening is the best thing we can do to help prevent colorectal cancer and helps allow those who are diagnosed with cancer to have better outcomes,” says Dr. Abel.

For individuals with a family history of the disease, meaning a first degree relative or parent was diagnosed, a physician will likely recommend getting screened as early as age 40.

Black Community at Increased Risk of Developing Colon Cancer

Black people are more likely to develop colorectal cancer at a younger age and to be at a more advanced stage when diagnosed. According to the National Cancer Institute, even when African Americans are diagnosed with early stage disease, they have significantly worse survival rates.

“Earlier and more aggressive screening in this group can help bridge this gap,” says Dr. Abel.

Primary Care Doctors Paying More Attention

A patient’s primary care doctor is typically his or her first line of defense in knowing if symptoms warrant further examination.

“Providers should consider other potential causes of a symptom like rectal bleeding, beyond assuming its hemorrhoids, as an important step in diagnosing what could be a more concerning issue. The physician can then refer the patient to a specialist who will perform a more thorough screening or schedule a colonoscopy,” says Dr. Abel.

“Colorectal cancer can be preventable, and if detected early, curable,” he says.

For ways to reduce your colon cancer risk, visit here.

CPMC’s Colorectal Cancer Center of Excellence Program

In 2019, Sutter’s CPMC was recognized by the National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer (NAPRC) as a leading Center of Excellence. To earn this three-year accreditation, CPMC met 19 standards, including the establishment of a rectal cancer multidisciplinary team, which includes clinical representatives from surgery, pathology, radiology, radiation oncology and medical oncology.

Read more about CPMC’s accreditation here.

For more information, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. To find a Sutter primary care physician, click here.