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Sleep Medicine services at Pondera Medical Center took an important step last week to being an accredited Sleep Study Provider by the State of Montana. Accreditation is valuable for a sleep medicine program because it allows for Medicare to be billed; but the process also vouches for the standard of the services patients receive. Setting a goal to receive accreditation highlights the drive and passion behind PMC’s mission to always exceed the healthcare expectation.

CJ Rauscher is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and the Respiratory Department Manager at Pondera Medical Center. She has played a key role in getting the program ready for accreditation status. Since going full-time in May 2018, CJ has done a tremendous amount of work and used her skills and experience to prepare sleep medicine for referrals and to start taking on new patients. Regarding sleep and the importance of offering sleep studies and sleep medicine to our patient community, CJ says: “We really don’t give sleep the credit it deserves. Inadequate sleep can cause a long list of short and long-term quality of life problems. Often, people will recognize their symptoms but don’t consider sleep conditions at the root. If your body is deprived of oxygen or you are not hitting REM, it can lead to fatigue and trouble focusing and depression; but also very serious risks such as heart attack and stroke.”

CJ, a Choteau Native, attended Great Falls College MSU and received her Associate’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy in 2014 from Montana’s top Respiratory program. During clinical rotations in college, CJ had the opportunity to experience the sleep lab in Great Falls. She has since been fascinated by the study of sleep. CJ says of her experience, “People tend to put their sleep concerns on the back burner, so to speak, without knowing that their poor sleep could be the root of their problems. Providing a sleep center that is local is not only important for this hospital but for the community. Community members can have their sleep study done without having to drive 30+ miles. I have had several patients that have come back and tell me that they are getting their best night’s sleep, don’t have any morning headaches, and they are able to enjoy their life because their sleep problems were fixed. That is always my goal: to improve patient’s sleep so that they can enjoy life again. I have always loved living in small towns with tight knit communities where your neighbors are like your family and in rural hospitals you treat your patients like they are your family. We chose to become accredited so that the community knows that we strive to be the best that we can be and this accreditation proves that we are on the right path to providing excellent care to our sleep patients. “

Deborah Hoffman, MD, is a provider at Rocky Mountain Heart & Lung and also the visiting Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine Specialist at Pondera Medical Center. Patients are able to utilize Dr. Hoffman’s services through a contract with the PMC Rural Health Clinic, both face to face and via telemedicine appointment. She brings extensive experience in expert care focused on pulmonology, critical care and sleep medicine. Her approach to healthy living is rooted in a balance of good nutrition, regular exercise and restorative sleep. She has a robust background in the study of sleep apnea and believes that identifying untreated sleep disorders can help positively impact patients’ lives and reduce associated medical costs. She offers comprehensive skills to help screen, educate, test, manage and track sleep patterns to alleviate sleep apnea, maximize wellness and improve the quality of life for her patients. Dr. Hoffman shares her expertise as a medical director for Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s outreach sleep medicine programs, providing this much-needed service to Pondera County as a visiting physician. 

The first step CJ recommends in evaluating if a sleep study may be right for you is to take the Epworth Sleepiness Quiz or the The Stop-Bang Questionnaire (SBQ). The SBQ is a sleep apnea test developed by researchers at the University of Toronto as an easy to use self-screening tool for obstructive sleep apnea. It combines a few questions with common sleep apnea factors, such as being male or having a mass body index greater than 35. The number of questions you answer yes to and the number of risk factors you qualify for will determine if you should seek further sleep apnea testing. Once you have a basic understanding of your risk, CJ is able to recommend your next step whether that is self-help tools you can try at home or if you should receive consultation for a home sleep study or in-house sleep study at PMC. CJ works closely with the PMC Rural Health Clinic providers and with Dr. Hoffman to determine the appropriate next step, test, solution and follow-up care for each patient. 

“The overall goal for sleep medicine is to improve quality of life for each patient who may be suffering from a sleep condition. It may be simple adjustment like prescription instructions; or it may require a C-Pap machine or weight loss goal. If anyone is suffering from fatigue, drowsiness, depression, headaches, dry mouth, restlessness or difficulty with gasping or choking, I really encourage you to call us today. We can definitely get you on the path to better sleep and improved quality of life. We have seen patients reduce medication or get off prescriptions completely as their sleep improves. It’s a worth a call if any of those conditions describe you. We are proud of the program we have developed and continue to build; and we are here for all of Pondera County and the surrounding areas.” 

To learn more about sleep medicine, sleep apnea, or to find out if an in-house or home sleep study may be right for you, please call CJ Rauscher at Pondera Medical Center, 271-3211 ext. 467. 

“Best of Care, Close to Home.”

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