Johns Hopkins Medicine opened last week an urgent care
center specifically geared to treat
sickle cell patients experiencing acute pain. A formal
opening celebration is scheduled for Feb. 18.
Johns Hopkins opened an adult sickle cell center in
2000 to provide chronic care for patients,
but the new center, the physicians say, fills a serious
treatment gap for patients with pain too severe
and too sudden to wait for care. Most head for crowded
emergency rooms, where there may be long
delays in getting infusions of powerful narcotics to stop
Sickle cell anemia, an inherited disorder that affects
mostly people of African and Hispanic
heritage, is named for the crescent-shaped blood cells
(which resemble sickles) caused by the disease.
The cells periodically clump inside blood vessels, blocking
circulation and causing severe anemia,
increased risk of infections or strokes, and episodes of
extreme pain that can last hours or days.
These episodes are so severe that physicians refer to them
as "sickle cell crises."
"Emergency departments are crowded and busy, making it
difficult for patients to get the
medications they need," said Sophie Lanzkron, assistant
professor of medicine and oncology and
director of both the new center and ongoing adult program.
"Frequent trips to request powerful
narcotics also often wrongly stigmatize sickle cell
patients as drug addicts who need a quick fix, so
lots of patients stay home and suffer because the thought
of going to the emergency room is so
uncomfortable," she said.
The new Sickle Cell Infusion Center, which is
scheduled to operate from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Monday through Friday in 136 Carnegie, was championed and
designed by both medical experts and
community leaders familiar with the burdens carried by
sickle cell patients.
Myron L. Weisfeldt, chairman of
the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins and physician
chief of the hospital, worked with Lanzkron and other
faculty and staff to develop the center and
obtain financial support. The team secured funding from
Priority Partners and Amerigroup, managed
care organizations that provide medical assistance to
low-income individuals. Priority Partners is
partially owned by Johns Hopkins HealthCare.
These insurers will pay a set fee to the urgent care
center each month to enroll their members
into programs that include unlimited visits. "Paying for
acute treatment in advance not only helps
patients but saves money overall by reducing costly visits
to emergency rooms," Lanzkron said.
In an average month, the emergency room at The Johns
Hopkins Hospital gets about 50 to 70
visits from sickle cell patients. Though the urgent care
center will be open only during business hours,
Lanzkron expects that it will absorb the bulk of patient
visits to treat sickle cell crises.