Philanthropy in Action

Giving Stories

Lettie Allen: Helping hands meant I could get the care I needed

The day Lettie Allen was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, her life changed. She was a mom of three kids—the youngest just two years old, she was working a more-than-fulltime job, and she'd just bought a new car.

Lettie Allen: Helping hands meant I could get the care I needed

The day Lettie Allen was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, her life changed. She was a mom of three kids—the youngest just two years old, she was working a more-than-fulltime job, and she'd just bought a new car.  

Now, her life was full of appointments: driving from her home in Tyrone to Mount Nittany Health for chemotherapy, radiation, injections, and surgery.

The day Lettie received her diagnosis was also the day she was introduced to Angelique Cygan, a Mount Nittany Health oncology breast navigator. As a navigator, Angelique serves as an advocate, educator, consultant, and liaison, helping patients at every step in their journey after a breast cancer diagnosis.  

Lettie represents the one in eight U.S. women who will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. It's estimated that 30 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in women this year will be breast cancer — making Angelique's work more important than ever.

Thanks to a groundbreaking gift from the Pink Zone, Mount Nittany Health expanded its oncology navigation program to include a dedicated oncology breast navigator. Angelique's position continues to benefit from philanthropic support to help even more patients facing a breast cancer diagnosis.

"Angelique has been there with me ever since day one," Lettie says. "I was working 80-some hours a week, and I had to go down to working 20 hours a week. I couldn't quit my job. I had car payments of $500 a month, I had three kids to take care of. There was a time when I had to go to Mount Nittany Health in State College every other day, and she helped me with gas cards."

As a breast health navigator, Angelique works to remove barriers to patient care and make sure patients receive timely access, treatment, and follow-up. "Patients battling breast cancer need a strong support system, especially on the clinical front because it's usually all new territory for them," she says.

The navigator program also helped Lettie with car payments, bills, and holiday expenses through dedicated patient support funds such as the Team Ream Fund at Mount Nittany Health Foundation.  Lettie, and cancer patients like her, can be forced to choose between treatment or the practical necessities of food, shelter, and transportation for herself and her children. Thanks to Angelique and the breast health navigation program, Lettie didn't have to choose. 

"Team Ream is all too familiar with the challenges cancer patients and their families face. Our focus is on making life a little easier for cancer patients by easing the everyday stress of fighting cancer. We are proud to partner with Mount Nittany Health Foundation to help Lettie and other cancer survivors like her," shares Samantha Ream Haas.

"Lettie is stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, and that means, short of a miracle, there is no cure," Angelique continues. "One of the reasons Lettie is doing so well is the donor support and the navigation resource that keeps her connected. Stage 4 is very serious, and sometimes a couple of missed appointments is the difference between stable disease and progression of the cancer. Although it was never easy for Lettie to ask for help, she knew it was a matter of life or death and there was help available to her. Although Lettie remains busy fighting her own disease, you can often find her looking for ways to help others. She has told me she wants to pass on the love others have shown to her."

Angelique has met with other stage 4 patients who didn't have the benefit of such dedicated support. "Sadly, they don't have a story like Lettie's," she says. Their medical note might read 'lost to follow-up' or 'patient was a no-show.' In reality, maybe they didn't have a car or couldn't afford gas. Some can't miss work and they are too overwhelmed to coordinate a new schedule. Others have no insurance. Through donor support and navigation, barriers such as these can be removed."

Mount Nittany Health Foundation directs donor funds to programs that support patient care, such as oncology navigation. Visit foundation.mountnittany.org or call 814.234.6777 to learn more about the Foundation's role in advancing cancer care in our communities.   

Best for our patients. Best for our community. Best for our future.

Mount Nittany Health proudly provides our region with advanced robot-assisted surgery through the da Vinci surgical system. Because we are committed to evolving to meet your needs, we are upgrading to the latest da Vinci model to further enhance our services. Additionally, this enhancement supports the unique combination of innovative technology and compassionate staff our community deserves — and expects — from us.

Best for our patients. Best for our community. Best for our future.

Mount Nittany Health proudly provides our region with advanced robot-assisted surgery through the da Vinci surgical system. Because we are committed to evolving to meet your needs, we are upgrading to the latest da Vinci model to further enhance our services. Additionally, this enhancement supports the unique combination of innovative technology and compassionate staff our community deserves — and expects — from us.  

“For me there are really three big benefits with the da Vinci system,” says Fred Doucette, MD, FACOG, Mount Nittany Physician Group OB/GYN. “Patients are always going to be our first priority and the da Vinci allows us to bring state of the art gynecological care to them. Second, it’s best for our community. It allows us to serve more patients locally and safely and it showcases that Mount Nittany Medical Center is a facility that is always adapting and providing the most advanced care. And third, it helps us recruit for the future. This is how we bring in the next generation of physicians who are going to serve this community, as this is the technology they train on and the system they expect to have to care for patients.” 

“Robotic surgery is not a fad, it is the gold standard for urological surgery in our country,” adds Christopher Yingling, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group Urology. “I don’t want to downplay the importance of the robot—without it we could not continue to practice modern urology at Mount Nittany Health.” 

The da Vinci Xi surgical system is a state-of-the-art surgical machine that’s revolutionized the way that complex surgeries are performed. With this system, surgeons operate through just a few small incisions and use robotic arms to complete their procedures. Upgrading the system also allows for expansion of the types of instruments used – and by extension – the surgical specialties that can use the system, including thoracic, cardiac and general surgery. 

“There’s improved visualization, fine motor control in very tight spaces allowing for complex suturing and reconstruction of tissues in spaces that were traditionally very difficult to access, decreased intraoperative blood loss, decreased post-operative pain, and in many cases shorter hospital stays,” explains Dr. Yingling. 

“The technology really helps in serving patients,” shares Dr. Doucette. “Hysterectomy patients, for example, are able to leave the hospital the same day instead of staying two to three days like they would with a traditional open hysterectomy. Patients can get back to their lives sooner and the risk of some complications is much lower.” 

“Upgrading to the da Vinci Xi robot helps maintain our position as the regional leader in robotics,” Dr. Yingling says. “The investment in this technology showcases Mount Nittany Health’s commitment to our patients, our community, and our future.”

Mount Nittany Health Foundation donors make a difference. Our donors' generosity enables the growth of expertise, advances in lifesaving technology, program improvements, and facility upgrades that meet the unique needs of the communities we serve. Gifts directly support Mount Nittany Health's mission to make people healthier. To learn more about the Mount Nittany Health Foundation, visit foundation.mountnittany.org or call 814.234.6777.

Anonymous donor gives $30,000 to advance patient care

Thanks to an anonymous donor, Mount Nittany Medical Center's pharmacy department purchased the iPack RX Unit Dose Packager, which converts bulk packaged tablets and capsules into individual barcoded unit-dose packages for safe and efficient distribution. With patient safety as Mount Nittany Health's priority, ensuring that patients receive the right dose of medicine is critically important.

Anonymous donor gives $30,000 to advance patient care

Thanks to an anonymous donor, Mount Nittany Medical Center's pharmacy department purchased the iPack RX Unit Dose Packager, which converts bulk packaged tablets and capsules into individual barcoded unit-dose packages for safe and efficient distribution.  With patient safety as Mount Nittany Health's priority, ensuring that patients receive the right dose of medicine is critically important.

This technology upgrades our current barcoded medication administration system. Nurses check the 'five rights' of medication use—right patient, right medication, right dose, right route, right time—and the barcode medication administration system enhances this practice. The barcode is scanned at the patient's bedside and communicates with the hospital pharmacy system, comparing that drug's code to the list of medications approved for use for the patient.

"Patient safety is a priority for Mount Nittany Health. It is a point of pride that the pharmacy and patient care staff embrace technology to provide better, safer care.  I'm so grateful that our donors also value patient safety and choose to support the important work of the pharmacy department," shares Ashley Kader, PharmD, BCPS, manager, pharmacy, Mount Nittany Medical Center.

The barcode system will notify the nurse that the dose scanned is less than or more than the patient's ordered dose. This is important as occasionally, different strengths of medicines are dispensed because of drug shortages or products currently in stock. For example, if a physician orders 10 milligrams of medicine, we may need to dispense two five milligram doses instead. The nurse is notified immediately that five milligrams has been scanned, and more medication is required because the patient’s dose is 10 milligrams.

An added advantage of this technology is that it creates a one year shelf life for the packaged drugs, as opposed to only six months with the previously used packager, significantly decreasing drug waste and increasing cost savings.

"We are so grateful for our donors' generosity and desire to support patient safety and quality care at Mount Nittany Health.  Gifts like this one are an investment in Mount Nittany Health and our mission to make people healthier," shares Simon Corby, executive director, Mount Nittany Health Foundation.

Mount Nittany Health Foundation donors make a difference. Our donors' generosity enables the growth of expertise, advances in lifesaving technology, program improvements, and facility upgrades that meet the unique needs of the communities we serve. Gifts directly support Mount Nittany Health's mission to make people healthier. To learn more about the Mount Nittany Health Foundation, visit foundation.mountnittany.org or call 814.234.6777.

Study on coronavirus in the healthcare setting

Mount Nittany Health Foundation is pleased to award $62,000 to Carrie Hanley, PhD, MPH, CIC, manager, infection prevention & control, Mount Nittany Health, to support the SARS-CoV-2 Centre County Clinical Cohort serological risk Assessment Trial (4CAST).

Study on coronavirus in the healthcare setting

Mount Nittany Health Foundation is pleased to award $62,000 to Carrie Hanley, PhD, MPH, CIC, manager, infection prevention & control, Mount Nittany Health, to support the SARS-CoV-2 Centre County Clinical Cohort serological risk Assessment Trial (4CAST). The purpose of this study, conducted in partnership with The Pennsylvania State University, is to determine immune responses and risk factors associated with infection in healthcare workers exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

Worldwide, one of the medical community's challenges in battling COVID-19 is understanding the risk factors associated with its transmission The medical and scientific communities have been racing against time to learn more about the virus and how best to treat patients while also reducing and preventing the virus' spread. To that end, research studies and clinical trials have rapidly mobilized to learn about the novel coronavirus to improve treatments, reduce transmission and ultimately prevent COVID-19.

Conducting studies in real-world situations like the 4CAST study, provide invaluable information to address key implementation and feasibility issues in community-based healthcare settings. This is why the health system and The Pennsylvania State University have partnered together for the 4CAST study.

"This study will help community healthcare centers better understand the risks of COVID-19 among frontline healthcare workers. It also allows us to respond in meaningful ways to protect staff and patients alike," shares Dr. Hanley. "We appreciate the Foundation's grant in support of this important study and our efforts to learn more about coronavirus in the healthcare setting."

"Mount Nittany Health Foundation is pleased to fund a study that can help advance the body of knowledge on the novel coronavirus and its impact on healthcare workers," states Simon Corby, executive director, Mount Nittany Health Foundation.

Mount Nittany Health Foundation donors make a difference. Our donors' generosity enables the growth of expertise, advances in lifesaving technology, program improvements, and facility upgrades that meet the unique needs of the communities we serve. Gifts directly support Mount Nittany Health's mission to make people healthier. To learn more about the Mount Nittany Health Foundation, visit foundation.mountnittany.org or call 814.234.6777.

Oncology patient navigators

Removing barriers to getting well

Oncology patient navigators

When patients hear the words, “You have cancer,” they can feel any number of emotions, and it can understandably be overwhelming. Patients may have questions about their health and treatment. They may have concerns about affording their care. They may wonder what resources are available in our community. Mount Nittany Health understands that when you have cancer, the only thing you should have to focus on is getting well. That’s why the health system offers oncology patient navigation services at no charge for those who need them.

“Our role is to remove barriers to our patients’ care,” shares Leslie Finton, MSW, oncology patient navigator. “Our goal is to ensure there are no barriers to receiving treatment. I tell patients and caregivers, ‘I want to lift all of this off of you so you don’t have to worry about the details.’”

The team of oncology patient navigators at Mount Nittany Health are advocates and guides for a patient’s journey through their cancer care. Assistance is tailored to the patient and their family’s personalized needs. As examples, patient navigators can help: •Guide patients through the healthcare system •Direct patients and their families to local resources and support systems •Coordinate transportation to and from treatments and medical appointments •Address questions about insurance and patient assistance programs, work with patients to resolve financial barriers related to being uninsured or under-insured, and assist patients with applying to local and national organizations that may provide financial assistance •Connect patients with appropriate resources for information about healthcare, including clinical trials and second opinions, as well as, treatment side effects and nutrition needs •Coordinate care by communicating with members of the patient’s medical team Patient navigators serve as the common link to the various resources and information individuals facing cancer may need. They are a single point of contact for any questions or barriers that may arise. Because research increasingly indicates that patient navigation improves clinical outcomes by overcoming patient and system barriers, Mount Nittany Health is especially grateful for the longstanding and dedicated philanthropic support for this program.

One such philanthropic partner is Team Ream. Team Ream, a local not for profit, is dedicated to providing support and assistance to families affected by a life-threatening illness, including cancer. Team Ream has donated more than $150,000 for direct patient support via the Team Ream Fund. The fund’s guidelines allow patient navigators to use these financial resources to remove specific barriers to care, such as transportation challenges or expenses for treatment.

Pink Zone, since its inception, has focused their donations on supporting the breast cancer navigation program, ensuring that breast cancer patients can access care. Just this year, Pink Zone partnered with The Kay Yow Cancer Fund, financing the navigation program work with underserved women with any cancer diagnosis.

Patient navigator services are not just for patients but are also for their family and friends. “Our role is as much to support the caregiver as the patient,” Finton shares. “We do whatever we can to remove the barriers for the patient. The team we put together to do that just depends on the individual.”

Though physicians and other care team members often refer to individuals, patients and others can reach out on their own as well.

When asked what the biggest reasons are patients either hesitate or don’t participate in the service, Finton supplies a quick response, “One reason: Knowledge that we exist.” Last year, the patient navigators served 500 patients through 1,500 unique interventions. That’s 1,500 barriers removed so patients can focus on getting well. But Finton knows the need is greater.

“We are a free service to our patients. We get them the care they need,” she says. “It shows that the health system not only cares about treating patients medically, but as a whole person. We want people to know navigation exists to remove their barriers and allow them to focus on getting treatment. We are here.”

If you are a person facing a cancer diagnosis or know someone that could benefit from speaking with a patient navigator, please reach out.

Learn more about oncology patient navigators, Kristen Sides and Leslie Finton, and the work they do in these informational videos.

For patient navigator contact information and to view our library of local and national cancer support services, visit mountnittany.org/specialties-and-services/oncology/support-services.

Pediatric speech therapy program

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 1 in 12 children, ages 3 to 17, in the United States has had a disorder related to speech, voice, language or swallowing.

Pediatric speech therapy program

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 1 in 12 children, ages 3 to 17, in the United States has had a disorder related to speech, voice, language or swallowing. Speech and language disorders are communication impairments that can adversely affect one’s ability to speak, understand, read and write. Such disorders include stuttering, difficulty forming words or sounds and difficulty understanding or using words in context. The challenges that come with speech and language disorders may make it difficult for a child to succeed in school.

Children with speech and language problems often need extra help and instruction. Children may receive speech and language services at school, however, these services may not be available during the summer, which could halt or impede progress. In addition, some insurances do not cover speech and language services, making it financially challenging for some to pay for the costs of these services.

To help address this gap in service, Lance Shaner provided Mount Nittany Health Foundation with a philanthropic gift to support our pediatric speech therapy program.

“I am pleased to participate in this needed service,” says Shaner. “I have experienced and witnessed children having issues with their speech having a hard time in school fitting in due to a diagnosed speech impairment. We have supported programs to assist with these types of therapies in the past in this community and know that this can do a tremendous amount of good. It just made good sense fitting in with our support and commitment to children and healthcare in this community. My hope is that it will generate additional philanthropic interest to the program in this very generous community.”

"We remain grateful for the generosity and vision of the Shaner family in supporting our pediatric speech therapy program helping children to find their voice," states Simon Corby, executive director, Mount Nittany Health. Mount Nittany Health’s pediatric speech therapy program began in 2015 and is led by Janet Pennington, MS, CCC/L, speech-language pathologist. Outpatient services offered through the pediatric speech therapy program include childhood speech and language delays, disorders of voice, fluency (stuttering) and swallowing.

“Treatment for speech and language disorders depends on the nature and severity of the problem, the age of the person and their awareness of the problem,” shares Pennington. “As a licensed outpatient speech-language pathologist, I select intervention approaches based on the highest quality of scientific evidence available in order to help individuals of all ages with speech and language disorders.”

At Mount Nittany Health, our speech-language pathologists are specially trained healthcare professionals who work directly with children and their parents, caregivers and teachers, to assess, prevent, diagnose and treat such disorders.

“With early treatment, many of these disorders can be reversed or even prevented,” shares Pennington. “In the case of children, parents should not delay seeking an assessment if they have any questions about their child’s communication skills.”

For more information about speech-language pathology services available at Mount Nittany Health, visit mountnittany.org or call 814.278.4662.

Mount Nittany Health Foundation donors make a difference. Our donors' generosity enables the growth of expertise, advances in lifesaving technology, program improvements, and facility upgrades that meet the unique needs of the communities we serve. Gifts directly support Mount Nittany Health's mission to make people healthier. To learn more about the Mount Nittany Health Foundation, visit foundation.mountnittany.org or call 814.234.6777.

Creating havens of relaxation

The hospital setting can be a place of uncertainty, fear, and sometimes sadness.

Creating havens of relaxation

The hospital setting can be a place of uncertainty, fear, and sometimes sadness. While we rejoice in the birth of a newborn baby, and celebrate the success of a loved one’s surgery, at times, we must make life-altering decisions and even say goodbye to those dearest to us. These moments filled with emotions of joy, sorrow, stress, and relief, create a need for spaces that offer relaxation and reflection. Mount Nittany Medical Center’s chapel and the H. Karl and F. Joan Spackman Barnett Healing Garden, spaces made possible through the generosity of donors, provide important respite areas.

The chapel, which opened in 2015, is designed so that anyone of any faith can feel comforted and connected. The hope is that this beautiful and quiet space meets the needs of many different people, including a welcoming place for patients, families, visitors, and staff.

Understanding that beauty can be soothing, Blake and Linda Gall, Kathy and Jerry Dittmann, and the late Barbara Palmer donated exquisite stained glass windows by artist David Lee Csicsko to decorate the sacred space. The stained glass windows feature birds, trees, water, and other natural elements, bringing nature inside, and giving the intimate space both a traditional and contemporary feel. It is a beautiful place to pray, meditate, or simply sit and quietly reflect. The chapel is located just inside the main entrance of the Medical Center next to the lobby, and it is open all day, every day.

The H. Karl and F. Joan Spackman Barnett Healing Garden – just outside of the chapel – is an acknowledgment that nature and green space are vital to health and wellness. Created in 2014, through the passion and dedication of Nancy and Richard Dixon with their gift to start the project, the space provides patients, visitors, and staff ample space to take a quiet moment to themselves.

The practice of introducing nature into healthcare settings has grown significantly in recent years. Research has demonstrated that therapeutic landscapes, such as the healing garden, have a profound impact on patients, their families, and healthcare workers. Patients exposed to such spaces experience less pain and stress, and their overall emotional states improve. This can result in shorter hospital stays and increased satisfaction for patients, families, and healthcare staff.

Donors from our generous community made the Healing Garden possible and are featured on leaf plaques throughout the garden. In return, we have welcomed our community members to visit, take a stroll, or find respite for both mental and physical wellness in one of the beautiful outdoor living rooms.

While visitor restrictions are currently in place at the Medical Center to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are grateful to have this sacred space available for all our patients, staff, and providers, especially during these difficult times.

It seems fitting that in a place that cares for people during each stage of life, in moments of joy and sorrow, there are places like the chapel and the Healing Garden where one can simply let go and feel at ease.

Mount Nittany Health Foundation donors make a difference. Our donors' generosity enables the growth of expertise, advances in lifesaving technology, program improvements, and facility upgrades that meet the unique needs of the communities we serve. Gifts directly support Mount Nittany Health's mission to make people healthier. To learn more about the Mount Nittany Health Foundation, visit foundation.mountnittany.org or call 814.234.6777

Pink Zone supports patients

Pink Zone's extra effort benefits breast cancer patients

Pink Zone supports patients

On the night before the annual Penn State Lady Lion Play for Kay Pink Zone basketball game, there is a Pink Eve celebration. At last year's event, Pink Zone held a surprise auction – a spur of the moment fundraising event where attendees generously donated funds to support the purchase of gift cards for breast cancer patients. This incredible extra fundraising effort raised $5,000. The funds – made available this month – come at a critical time to support breast cancer patients as they battle cancer and the fallout from COVID-19.

This support is particularly important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cancer patients are experiencing economic distress due to reduced work hours, loss of income and potential loss of employer-based health insurance. Angelique Cygan, RN, oncology breast navigator, shares, "It is incredibly meaningful to help patients during this especially stressful time while also enabling access to care and allaying their fears." Cygan is supported in this effort thanks to the generosity of Pink Zone. Indeed, several patients have shared with Cygan that they were prepared to stop treatment due to lost jobs and income. Further, patients often face transportation challenges to obtain necessary treatment, and COVID-19 has only further exacerbated this barrier to care. This gift ensures that Cygan can help ease the financial burden of transportation through Sheetz gift cards to offset the cost of gas. This important assistance helps patients get to and from their necessary medical appointments.

Cygan states, "The gift cards are much needed and appreciated, but even more powerful is the community support behind each card. When I give the patient the gift card, I explain how individuals in our community have come together to lift them up and support them - they are not alone. That is the moment I see patients regain strength and the will to continue their journey."

"We are so grateful to the Pink Zone for their generosity. This gift allows us to provide much-needed direct support to ease some financial burden, allowing patients and their families to focus on their care and treatment," says Simon Corby, executive director, Mount Nittany Health Foundation.