Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Fairfield County Hospitals Strive for More Integrative Medicine: Options for Patients, Caregivers and Community

Oct 02, 2014 04:35AM ● By Beth Prins Leas

“Integrative Medicine is the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”
~ Developed and Adopted by The Consortium, May 2004
Edited May 2005, May 2009 and November 2009

The mere mention of the word “hospital” may conjure images of surgical suites, sterile hallways, and rooms filled with patients receiving prescription drugs for their pain. However, many hospitals have been adding programs to their conventional offerings to allow patients to choose complementary paths of healing, such as acupuncture, energy work and massage. These integrative medicine programs contain valuable resources for patients, their caregivers and the surrounding community. The offerings at each hospital vary widely, so individuals may need to search for the hidden treasures at institutions near them.

According to a 2013 nationwide government survey, 36 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 years and over use some form of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). CAM services and products include hundreds of old and new practices that are generally closer to nature, cheaper and less invasive than conventional protocols emphasizing the use of drugs and surgery.

A 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that 65 percent of respondents who had been diagnosed with cancer had used complementary approaches, compared to 53 percent of other respondents. Most of these patients used conventional medical approaches as well and their use of additional therapies did not necessarily indicate dissatisfaction with conventional medicine. Research indicates therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology, Reiki and others are effective supportive care to conventional methods, decreasing uncomfortable symptoms such as pain, fatigue and nausea.

As defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health, integrative medicine “combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.” Integrative medicine is healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person (body, mind and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the partnership between patient and practitioner in the healing process and makes use of all appropriate therapies – both conventional and alternative – to facilitate the body’s innate healing response. 

Integrative medicine’s popularity is booming due to general lifestyle trends and a response to the changing landscape of the healthcare industry. A soft economy and anxiety over new healthcare laws seem to be causing individuals to seek a healthier lifestyle which includes disease prevention and health promotion. Integrative medicine is lifestyle medicine, strongly based on avoiding illness through exercise, nutrition and mental well-being.

The majority of hospital systems and cancer centers in major U.S. markets now offer an integrative medicine program. Some of these are in the research and development stage while others are well developed, fully functioning and featured in the hospitals’ marketing. NCCAM was founded in 2005 to advise hospitals and universities about which therapies might be best for patients, to gather data on how CAM was affecting patient care, and to assess how hospitals were using CAM with their patients. The work has shown effect; In 2012, NCCAM found that 52 percent of hospitals offered CAM to their patients, up sharply from 8 percent in 1998. 

High patient demand is driving hospitals to embrace integrative medicine; hospitals not keeping up with the trend risk being marginalized. The American Hospital Association (AHA) has surveyed its members several times in recent years on the use of CAM therapies. An AHA press release from its 2011 study noted: “According to the survey, 85 percent of responding hospitals indicated patient demand as the primary rationale in offering CAM services and 70 percent of survey respondents stated clinical effectiveness as their top reason.”

Since the services offered tend to be high touch, low tech and low margin, they do not contribute heavily to an institution’s bottom line. Beyond the emphasis on disease prevention, integrative medicine is traditionally more economical than conventional medicine - and many modalities can be taught to the patient to be used at home, such as yoga and meditation. 

Health consumers are also becoming savvier; the population increasingly understands they have more choices and they are voting with selection of medical practitioners, hospitals and centers. These educated patients and caregivers are demanding the whole person care that is the root of integrative medicine and are hungry for this care-plus-education that will arm them for successful management of their own health status.

Most Fairfield County hospitals now have complementary or integrative medicine departments which provide these modalities either complimentary or as a fee-for-service. Many also offer these services for the community at large, but may not market this widely. Below is a summary of the integrative medicine programs currently available through Fairfield County medical institutions. Of note is that even though some of these institutions are affiliated – for example, Danbury Hospital, Norwalk and New Milford Hospitals are affiliated and members of the Western Connecticut Health Network – their model for providing integrative medical care and the services they offer are in fact quite different. 

Danbury Hospital

Danbury Hospital’s complementary medicine program was first introduced in 1998 and is run by a registered nurse with over 35 years of experience in Western medicine. She has been actively practicing and studying “non-traditional” therapies for over 30 years. She offers patients information on coping with their illness and how to implement various therapies as complements to their medical care plan. As a member of a multidisciplinary team, the complementary medicine coordinator offers a service that benefits both patients and healthcare professionals.

Offerings include volunteer instruction on various relaxation techniques for stress reduction and pain management, including Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch, reflexology and massage therapy. Music therapy is provided at the bedside to create a healing environment. In addition, Continuous Ambient Relaxation Environment channels are available on every patient’s television; these have been proven effective for both stress reduction and pain management.

Danbury Hospital is one of three hospitals in the area which comprise the Western Connecticut Health Network. New Milford Hospital and Norwalk Hospital are the other affiliate regional hospitals.

Greenwich Hospital

Originally launched in 2007, Greenwich Hospital’s integrative medicine program now offers complimentary Healing Touch sessions to patients. “Presently, we have a large Healing Touch volunteer program with approximately 85 volunteers offering complimentary sessions to patients on most hospital units,” explains Integrative Medicine Program Coordinator Roberta Brown Brugo, RN, LMT, CHTP/I. “We provide approximately 250-400 Healing Touch treatments each month, depending on census, patients requests and volunteer availability. In 2014, we will have given over 4,000 treatments throughout the year.” 

Fee-for-service choices include massage therapy for any hospital inpatient and a Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster consultation with a certified RN to learn mind/body techniques for relaxation before surgery and to visualize recovery. Music & Meditation is a free weekly offering by Music Therapist Amy Zabin in the hospital chapel to patients and community members. The music therapist also provides music as a free service to patients during their hospital stay or chemotherapy treatment. In addition, medical oncology in-patients receive a free half-hour massage. Brugo also offers educational talks on the benefits of yoga and meditation and presents at various community events and support groups.

Greenwich Hospital is a major academic affiliate of Yale University School of Medicine and a member of the Yale New Haven Health System. 

New Milford Hospital

New Milford Hospital offers one complimentary integrative session during a patient’s stay: hypnotherapy (prior to surgery), acupuncture, reflexology, massage or Therapeutic Touch. “In addition, these services are offered to the community via our fee-by-appointment integrative medicine community services at very reasonable rates,” explains Susan Twombly, community outreach and integrative medicine coordinator at New Milford Hospital. “This allows patients to continue with the therapy they experienced during their stay and offers the health benefits of these services as well.” 

Health and wellness classes are also offered, such as Gentle Yoga, Strong Women/Strong Bones and Stress Reduction and Relaxation Training. Twombly also has organized the “Care for the Care Giver” Integrative Medicine Retreat being held this October at no cost for New Milford Hospital employees. This is the fourth year the retreat will be offered and Twombly is expecting more nurses and physicians to attend than in years past. This is important for the continued growth of the integrative medicine service area – established in 2010 - since the services at the hospital are often driven by referrals from medical professionals.

New Milford Hospital is one of three hospitals in the area which comprise the Western Connecticut Health Network. Danbury Hospital and Norwalk Hospital are the other affiliate regional hospitals.

Norwalk Hospital

Even though Norwalk Hospital’s integrative medicine program only launched three years ago, it already has a satellite program in New Canaan. Overseen by a steering committee of physicians, nurses and administrators, the program provides “proven, scientifically-based, holistic therapies to help support conventional medical treatments and to promote healing, relaxation, and overall well-being.” The services are available to patients in the hospital as well as outpatient community members. 

Offering Reiki, massage and acupuncture, Norwalk Hospital has three licensed acupuncturists, eight licensed massage therapists and three Reiki masters on staff. Patients at the Whittingham Cancer Center have a choice of a complimentary 30-minute massage, private acupuncture treatment or three Reiki sessions. Norwalk Hospital inpatients can request to receive integrative medicine therapies or counseling at bedside. Outpatient sessions are held in a quiet, comfortable treatment room located within the hospital’s Integrative Medicine Center, off the main lobby.

“In addition,” says Michaela Motta, integrative medicine program coordinator at Norwalk Hospital, “cancer patients receive a complimentary herbal supplement consultation and a nutritional consultation.” All these services can also be enjoyed fee-for-service at both locations, Monday through Saturday. Norwalk Hospital also offers classes in tai chi, chi gong, yoga and meditation.

Norwalk Hospital is one of three hospitals in the area which comprise the Western Connecticut Health Network. Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital are the other affiliate regional hospitals.

Stamford Hospital

In October 2008, Stamford Hospital was one of the first in the area to open a dedicated center for the delivery and coordination of integrative services. The Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness, located at the Tully Center, places an emphasis on patients as people, how they live and what their personal goals may be, as well as on how their lifestyle impact illnesses, injury and chronic medical conditions.

The Stamford Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness is an insurance-based consultative outpatient service, where integrative physicians such as Dr. Joseph Feuerstein work in collaboration with referring physicians and integrative services are treated as a medical specialty. The center’s practitioners work with patients and their physicians to develop a coordinated, multidisciplinary treatment plan. Treatment methods may include physician-administered acupuncture, nutritional counseling, trigger point injections, botanical and supplement consulting and mind-body therapies.

Conditions treated include: anxiety/depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autoimmune disease, irritable bowel syndrome, menopause/PMS/menstrual issues, metabolic syndrome and weight loss and overweight issues and obesity. Pain management: issues such as headaches, neck and low back pain, osteoarthritis, neuropathy, fibromyalgia, pelvic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, stress management and urinary incontinence are also treated. 

Services offered by the center are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare. 

In addition to the Tully Center, Stamford Hospital also offers an integrative medicine program at Bennett Cancer Center (BCC). This program offers complimentary programs to cancer patients during treatment and through their transitions. One of these programs is Choice in Recovery Program, a post-treatment survivorship program for patients and families led by Fran Becker, LCSW, at BCC. 

“Among the choices of complementary therapies available at BCC are massage, reflexology, Reiki and craniosacral therapy,” says Vivian Howell, LMT, who has worked at BCC for more than 10 years. “Each patient receives three free sessions of each and caregivers receive one of each.” Art therapy and music therapy, along with restorative yoga and tai chi are ongoing programs. As needed, patients receive personal training for three months at the Tully Health & Fitness Institute. BCC also offers monthly programs such as Mind Over Matters (moving meditation), Ask the Nutritionist, Art and Imagery and Music Therapy. 

Stamford Hospital is affiliated with New York Presbyterian Health System.

Beth Leas is founding director of Total Life Center at 152 East Ave, Norwalk and a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings. She can be reached at 203-856-9566

Integrative Medicine Resources

Danbury Hospital Complementary Medicine Program
24 Hospital Ave, Danbury

Greenwich Hospital Integrative Medicine Program
Roberta  Brown Brugo, RN, LMT, CHTP/I, Integrative Medicine Program Coordinator

5 Perryridge Rd, Greenwich

New Milford Hospital Integrative Medicine Program
Susan Twombly, Community Outreach and Integrative Medicine Coordinator

21 Elm St, New Milford

Norwalk Hospital Integrative Medicine Program
Michaela Motta, Integrative Medicine Program Coordinator

34 Maple St, Norwalk

Stamford Hospital Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness 
Tully Health Center

32 Strawberry Hill Ct, Stamford

Stamford Hospital Integrative Medicine
Program at Bennett Cancer Center
Fran Becker, LCSW, Manager, Cancer Support Services

30 Shelburne Rd, Stamford