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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 11, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 21
Johns Hopkins Opens Center to Treat Severe Sickle Cell Pain

By Christen Brownlee
Johns Hopkins Medicine

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 the pain.

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 in 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.


Related Web sites

Sickle Cell Center for Adults at Johns Hopkins
Division of Hematology at Johns Hopkins
Sophie Lanzkron
Myron Weisfeldt


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