December 10, 2018
Health Care Heroes Awards 2018

HSC's Alderman helps lung-disease patients breathe easier

Photos | Contributed
Photos | Contributed
Hospital for Special Care respiratory therapist Stephanie Alderman (left) stands outside with patient Jack Sherry.
Stephanie Alderman (right) with patient Laura Roix at the Hartford Marathon.

Category: Healthcare Staff

Stephanie Alderman

Employer: Hospital for Special Care

Title: Lead Respiratory Therapist

Stephanie Alderman teaches patients with serious lung ailments not only how to cope, but also how to be their own cheerleaders on the road to lasting recovery.

It's a role at New Britain's Hospital for Special Care that is gaining attention. The chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) management program she helped develop, and some of her star pulmonary rehab patients are putting HSC on the map nationally.

As the leader of a two-person team in respiratory care for outpatients, Alderman runs the pulmonary rehab outpatient program as well as the Breathtakers support group, but also gets involved in other support groups on her own time. She also has been instrumental in developing the COPD disease management program, which benefited a few years ago from a $250,000 grant from the Hartford-based Galwicki Family Foundation, Alderman said. One of the foundation's areas of focus is pulmonary health.

Today, Alderman's work continuously managing patients is helping minimize flare-ups and hospital readmissions, largely because her treatment plans address the debilitating recurrence of COPD, said Ami Desai, HSC's director of outpatient administration.

"She is so tremendously passionate about this program, she goes above and beyond in calling patients, making sure they understand why this program is important, and giving them the right resources (to) manage their disease," Desai said.

HSC's COPD disease management program was recently recognized by the National Committee on Quality Assurance as a patient-centered specialty practice and is the only COPD disease management program in the country to achieve this recognition.

NCQA is a nonprofit that uses measurement, transparency and accountability to drive improvement in the healthcare industry.

Alderman, 51, of Middletown, found her calling as a respiratory therapist when she began working in the gym more than five years ago with patients who suffer from various lung diseases.

Switching from working in an HSC unit weaning in-patients off ventilators to working with outpatients at the gym in the pulmonary rehabilitation program, she realized she liked managing patients' care long term instead of saying goodbye after discharge.

"I get to know these people and keep tabs on them," she said. "We're connected."

Alderman's job involves pre-screening patients for doctors and occupational and physical therapists. Then, the team — Alderman, with help from respiratory therapist Rhonda Pintek — develops treatment plans for a six- to eight-week rehab program.

The team assesses baselines not only for lung-related measurements like oxygen levels but for overall health, including anxiety and depression.

"Patients who graduate (show) gains in strength and endurance, learn through education what's going on with their lungs and how to take care of them and develop a long-term plan for exercise to address not just the lungs but the whole body, the whole person," Alderman said.

At the end of the pulmonary rehab program, Alderman encourages qualifying patients to enroll in the COPD disease management program so they can learn to control symptoms.

'Sarge'

Born in New York City, Alderman grew up in Hartford and joined the Army National Guard in 1987, leaving with the rank of sergeant in 1982. She worked for four years as a respiratory therapist at St. Raphael's Hospital in New Haven, eventually finding her way to HSC in 1995. She became a full-time outpatient respiratory therapist at HSC in 2010.

After obtaining her certification in respiratory therapy in 1989 from Quinnipiac University, she is now in school online at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah, working to obtain a bachelor's degree in healthcare management.

Two of her favorite success stories — Jack Sherry and Laura Roix — are profiled on livebetter.org, a website dedicated to fostering pulmonary health, run by the Galwicki Family Foundation and the American Thoracic Society.

Sherry, who calls Alderman "Sarge," contracted a severe bronchial infection in 2014. By 2016, after being hospitalized again, he found Alderman's program.

"He said, 'All I want to do is walk my dog and I can't even do that,' " she recalled. "I said to him, 'Why don't you think about what you can do instead of what you can't do?' And we saw that lightbulb moment."

Through the program, Sherry dropped nearly 50 pounds using a spreadsheet to track his progress.

Roix, 68, of Manchester, who suffers from potentially fatal idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, made such progress that she turned her health around and recently completed a 5K after repeat surgery on her lungs in 2017.

"There's no 'can't' in her world," Roix said of Alderman. "She said, 'I have so much faith in you. I know you can do this.'"

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