April 8, 2021

Saint Anne’s Hospital Bariatric Surgery Program Brings Patient Experience to a New Level

It’s well known that bariatric surgery is often just the start of a weight loss journey. At Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, MA, part of Steward Health Care’s North Region, Matthew LeMaitre, MD, metabolic and bariatric surgery program director, has built a program based on supportive relationships that continue well after surgery.

“We’ve really put a focus on creating a unique patient experience that fosters success,” Dr. LeMaitre says. “We want our patients to feel how vested we are in their ongoing effort to lose weight and keep it off.”

Dr. LeMaitre and his team have put several practices in place to develop the support structure that redefines the patient experience.  Many patients get their first exposure to this unique environment through the bariatric support group.

“This is a very active group,” says Alysha Gebo, a registered dietitian who oversees the monthly support group. “Because of the pandemic, we shifted this group online, but we still have very active participation. One recent session had 38 participants!” she says.

Program staff distribute a monthly e-newsletter that helps keep patients focused on their weight loss goals. The publication includes healthy recipes, information about upcoming events and other kinds of weight loss information. Program participants also receive a motivational booklet called I Can Change, a tool for taking note of new learnings, posting photos to demonstrate progress, and building commitment to the weight loss process.

After surgery, Dr. LeMaitre offers patients several unique approaches to help manage post-operative pain. “We help them with a number of strategies—everything from sending them home with coloring pencils to keep their mind occupied, to giving them their own ‘pain pillow’ that provides some relief when pressed against the stomach,” Dr. LeMaitre says. 

The pillow comes in the shape of a stomach—an added touch to remind patients of their goal.

“Our team is very committed to rounding on our patients after surgery to make sure they have everything they need and have the opportunity to ask questions,” he adds.

Guiding patients along their journey is a top priority for the program. The bariatric patient program manager, Dorothy Cunningham—herself a weight loss patient—serves as a patient navigator, supporting each patient every step of the way before and after surgery. 

Through it all, Dr. LeMaitre takes joy in seeing patients take ownership of their post-surgery journey and serve as guides to newcomers. An Ambassador Program provides a forum for post-surgery patients to meet with those preparing for surgery to share their experiences, point out keys to success and offer support.

“It speaks volumes when patients show such commitment to themselves and each other,” Dr. LeMaitre says. “We’ve even had a group of post-surgery patients take it upon themselves to start a walking group that meets weekly.” Dr. LeMaitre joins them—even through the cold winter months—to encourage their newfound healthy lifestyles. 

Later this year, Dr. LeMaitre hopes to revisit a pre-pandemic tradition of hosting a gathering with post-surgery patients to celebrate their successes as a group. “It’s such a great opportunity, not only for patients to share their stories, but also for staff to see the great outcomes they’ve each played a part in,” he says.

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