MCH Offering Chiropractic

At a luncheon in late July at Monroe Community Hospital, Paul Dougherty took a seat at the table with a group of doctors. The symbolism wasn’t lost on anyone. A chiropractor by trade, Dougherty would have been viewed as a quack by this crowd just 20 years ago, but now he’s helping to blaze a trail that is pushing chiropractic medicine into the mainstream. Dougherty heads a newly created chiropractic clinic at Monroe Community Hospital that is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, one that offers chiropractic therapy in the setting of a long-term care institution. Here at the county’s largest nursing home, Dougherty works side by side with doctors to relieve the back and neck pain of elderly residents with chronic illnesses. When pain medications don’t do the job, Dougherty goes to work stretching and cracking the spinal columns of residents like 52-year-old Pat Gribb, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and spends all day in a wheelchair. “ It’s not a comfortable position to be in,” said Gribb, whose back pain was relieved last month when Dougherty stretched her back to unlock several compressed vertebrae. “ I immediately felt the difference.” As late as 1983, the American Medical Association considered it unethical for doctors to refer patients to chiropractors. Today, though, those guidelines encourage chiropractic treatment when doctors think it is in the best interest of their patients. About 500 hospitals in the U.S. now have chiropractors on their staffs, according to the American Chiropractic Association in Arlington, Va. “ That sounds like a pretty good number, but when you consider that there are 6,000 hospitals in the country, we still have a long way to go,” said Jerome F. McAndrews, spokesman for the group. McAndrews said he is not aware of another experiment like the one at Monroe Community Hospital: a chiropractic clinic within the halls of a nursing home. The clinic, jointly operated by the New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls, also is a teaching site for students and offers outpatient services. “ We’re not trying to be physicians. That’s not what we do,” said Dougherty, an associate professor at the college. “ But we do think that we have a role to play in pain management.” The clinic began as a demonstration project last year, treating 48 elderly residents with back pain, headaches, neck pains and shoulder stiffness. Monroe Community Hospital officials liked the way that these patients responded to the chiropractic treatments, so they decided to open it to the rest of the resident population. The treatment is not considered appropriate, though, for extremely frail patients. “ The goal is to reduce pain, and however you do it, I don’t care as long as it’s safe and effective,” said Dr. Paul Katz, medical director at Monroe Community Hospital. “ I admit it that when I was in medical school in the ‘70s, chiropractic had a very negative connotation to it,” Katz said. “ But there’s a lot more science behind what they do now, and it’s really given me a greater appreciation for their role.” Chiropractic medicine involves manipulating joints and muscles to improve their function. It is not known why this causes pain to subside, but it may have to do with a relaxing effect on the central nervous system, Dougherty said. Dougherty is the first to argue that more scientific research is needed. In fact, he and Monroe Community Hospital officials have applied for a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a three-year study on how elderly patients react to chiropractic therapy. If approved — the government’s decision is due in late August — Monroe Community Hospital will have two study groups: those who get traditional medical treatments for back pain (steroid injections, pain medications), vs. those who get medical treatment plus chiropractic. Outcomes will be measured by using a standard of patient satisfaction and cost effectiveness. “ I think there’s a future in integrating chiropractic with traditional medicine, and it’s exciting to be on the front-end of it,” Dougherty said. Courtesy of The Democrat and Chronicle

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