Despite the explanation from the hospital for why Phase III cardiac rehab will be discontinued, many of the patients in the program feel that ending the program is the wrong move.
WCA, which sent letters out to all of those involved with the program who would be affected, also received its share of letters. In one letter to the hospital, the wife of a patient called it a "disservice to the community."
"You have pulled the rug from under us," the letter read. "My husband is 75 years old, most of the patients in this program are at least middle-aged, where are we to go? When a hospital stops caring about cardiac patients, it has lost its heart."
According to Wally Geist, another patient of the program, during Phase II of cardiac rehab, patients are connected to a monitor where nurses can track heart rate and oxygen levels. After completing Phase II, Phase III is an optional program where the patient can take it upon themselves to continue the program, usually without the monitor, but still in a hospital setting. Patients are still watched over by cardiac nurses, and they also receive both entrance and exit blood pressure checks.
"The original program was slated to end July 1, but apparently WCA decided to extend it for three weeks," Geist said. "Other hospitals in the area like Westfield, Brooks and others still continue with a Phase III cardiac rehab program. As far as I'm concerned, there has not been a viable reason given for this program to be discontinued at WCA."
Geist said the hospital has made an attempt to have exit interviews to discuss with patients what their options are, but at least in his case, the options that he's looking for are ones that involve the hospital. Geist estimated the hospital has received between 20 and 25 letters from patients who were displeased about the termination of the Phase III program.
"I haven't heard of a single patient that has been in support of this decision," Geist said. "I think it's a disservice to the community. (Phase III) is a benefit to those people who have compromised cardiac systems."
In January 2012, while Geist was a patient in phase III, he said he went into atrial fibrillation, or A-fib. A-fib is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, and while it may cause no symptoms, it can also be associated with palpitations, fainting, chest pain or congestive heart failure. At that time of the incident, Geist was working out on his own at the hospital, but one of the cardiac nurses was able to respond to the situation. She put Geist back on a monitor to check his heart, made arrangements for him to have an EKG, and then a local cardiologist came in to talk to him and adjusted his medications accordingly.
"When you're working out at the hospital, it's always staffed by several cardiac nurses who are very good at what they do," Geist said. "That's a feature that is not available anywhere else, and it's a function that I think should be made available to people in the area."
When asked what he would tell the hospital if he spoke to them, Geist told The Post-Journal that he certainly hopes that the hospital will consider continuing with the practice of providing Phase III cardiac rehab and making it accessible to people who want to have their cardiac rehab in a controlled medical environment.
"It was suggested that people go to Westfield or Dunkirk. For people that might be on a fixed income, that's a tremendous expense in their monthly budget," Geist said. "I think it's short-changing the community if they end this program."