Mat-Su Regional Medical Center

The new hyperbaric chamber has been in operation since late October.

A new facility treating slow-healing wounds is in operation at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center – Mat-Su Regional Advanced Wound Care and Hyperbaric Therapy Center.

The new hyperbaric chamber has been in operation since late October and is the only service of its kind in the state, said Alan Craft, Mat-Su Regional’s marketing director.

Dr. Rachel Cuevas is the medical director of the therapy center, which operates in the New Medical Office Plaza at the hospital’s main campus in Palmer.

The oxygen therapy procedure involves an enclosed, transparent chamber where patients are exposed to pure oxygen at elevated pressures, similar to the way divers are treated when they develop high levels of nitrogen in their blood, Craft said in an e-mail.

The oxygen speeds the flow of blood and speeds repair of damaged tissue.

Slow-healing wounds and ulcers can develop among patients with diabetic conditions as well as surgical wounds or wounds suffered through accidents, Craft said. The treatment is also effective with burns and frostbite.

“Our service features two hyperbaric oxygen chambers for patients with non-healing, chronic wounds that have not responded to other types of treatment. The chambers are constructed of clear plastic and are ‘mono’ units, designed for a single person,” Craft said.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in the blood. In our program, patients are immersed in 100 percent oxygen that is delivered at high pressure while the patient is stationary, inside the chamber,” he said.

“The high-pressure oxygen saturates the patient’s blood plasma, increasing its capacity to carry oxygen to 15-to 20 times the normal volume. Wounds need oxygen to heal and treating damaged tissue with highly concentrated oxygen facilitates the healing,” Craft wrote.

Treatment sessions are typically 90 minutes each and are usually done in five-day intervals broken by two days of non-treatment. Most treatment protocols require 20 sessions.

Mat-Su Regional decided to develop the service because the hospital has seen an increase in the number of patients with complex wounds that could benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, he wrote.

The program has been a hit, with solid bookings since the wound care center opened in late October.

The population of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough – in fact the entire state – is aging and diabetes-related illnesses are becoming more common.

The Mat-Su Health Foundation conducts periodic assessments of unmet healthcare needs in the community, Craft noted. “From these studies, we are able to identify the health services that are most needed.” Advanced wound care and hyperbaric oxygen treatment is a prime example of a needed service that wasn’t available locally, Craft said.

Another example of the hospital’s expansion of services to meet local needs was when Mat-Su Regional expanded its orthopedic services four years ago. At the time the hospital had about 29 percent of the local market for orthopedic care, but after a recruitment and development program, Mat-Su Regional now has about 65 percent of the market.

Previously most orthopedic patients had gone to Anchorage or out-of-state for treatment.

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