A Championship Contender In its first year, The Pat Summitt Clinic assembled the region's largest team to treat Alzheimer's and other dementias, which drastically reduced patients' wait times. And that was just the first way they lit up the scoreboard.

Inspired by Coach Summitt’s vision, The Pat Summitt Clinic opened its doors in January 2017. In the first year of operation, the clinic – the first and only one of its kind in the region – has expanded the team to serve the ever-growing need for dementia care, significantly reduced wait times for patients, built strategic alliances, kicked off a fundraising initiative to support research, and increased patients' access to clinical trials. And there's no sign of the team slowing down.

Legendary basketball coach and teamwork expert, Pat Summitt, envisioned a place in East Tennessee where patients, families, caregivers, and leading medical experts would work collaboratively to improve care and support, educate future physicians and clinicians, and conduct ground-breaking research in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Click photos to enlarge. Medical Director of The Pat Summitt Clinic, Roberto Fernandez, MD, MPH, PhD (left). The clinic’s entryway pays homage to legendary coach and Alzheimer’s sufferer, Pat Summitt (upper right). The exam rooms are furnished with recliner-like chairs that fold back to become exam tables. The goal of the clinic’s design is to make patients and their families feel safe and comfortable (lower right).

Growing the Clinic to Meet the Need

According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and one in three seniors will die of Alzheimer's or another dementia. By 2050, the number of Americans with the disease could reach 16 million – a 220 percent increase.

Click graphics to enlarge.

To meet this growing need, Roberto Fernandez, MD, MPH, PhD, clinic director, assembled a strong multidisciplinary team of experts with experience in working with the dementia population. In addition to Fernandez, who is a highly respected physician, scientist and board-certified neurologist with a subspecialty in behavioral neurology, the clinic team now includes:

  • A board-certified neurologist
  • Two clinical neuropsychologists
  • A speech-language pathologist
  • A registered nurse care coordinator
  • Two social workers
Clink link below to launch the Pat Summitt Clinic virtual tour.
"We offer a high level of expertise in one place in dealing with Alzheimer's and other dementias," said Fernandez. "We provide an overall integration between clinical care, scientific research, caregiver support, outreach and education."

By adding health care professionals to meet the community's need, the clinic now offers more access to neurologists, neuropsychologists, researchers, social workers, speech pathologists and other caregivers than any Alzheimer's facility in the region.

Reducing Wait Times for Patients and Their Families

The Pat Summitt Clinic is the first clinic in East Tennessee devoted to collaborative, comprehensive treatment for Alzheimer's and other dementias. Today the clinic serves approximately 3,500 patients in East Tennessee. That number is expected to nearly double to approximately 6,000 within the next five years.

A Patient's Journey Through The Pat Summitt Clinic

Before the clinic opened, it often took patients a year or more to receive treatment. Opening the clinic and increasing the team has reduced wait times for new patients by 75 percent – from 12 months to three months.

This allows them to receive diagnosis and treatment earlier in the disease process, which improves their ability to receive much-needed care.

Click photos to enlarge. When a patient and their caregivers arrive at The Pat Summitt Clinic, they are greeted by an experienced team. Nurses take vital signs and obtain basic clinical information. Using a variety of tools, the patient is tested during their visit to assess basic cognitive function and determine how their disease may be progressing. The patient also sees a physician, who takes a detailed history, further assesses cognitive function and performs a comprehensive neurologic exam, all while social workers meet with caregivers to address non-medical needs. The team, patient and caregivers discuss the patient's customized treatment plan during their visit to the clinic. At subsequent visits, the neuropsychologists may administer highly specialized tests to assess the patient’s mental abilities. The clinic also offers evaluations by other specialists such as speech pathologists that can help the patient improve their communication skills. After the patient leaves the clinic, they are not alone.

Building Strategic Alliances

In 2017, the clinic began building strategic alliances with a variety of organizations at the local, national and international levels. These relationships increase awareness of the clinic and its services and expand treatment opportunities in new, innovative directions.

In the last year, The Pat Summitt Clinic started developing The Pat Summitt Clinic Care Coordination Program in collaboration with the University of Tennessee College of Nursing. The program uses a multi-disciplinary approach to meet the complex needs of patients and their caregivers and seeks to ensure ongoing support between clinical visits. It brings together clinicians and outcomes-based researchers to find innovative solutions in the coordination of care.

The clinic also helped author a Scholarly and Research Incentive Funds (SARIF) grant through The University of Tennessee. Clinic researchers will work with the Colleges of Engineering and Arts and Sciences to develop and validate human-computer interphases as noninvasive, affordable, individualized diagnostic tool for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. This clinical research will help advance the national field of study by determining new ways to detect onset earlier and treat the disease.

In collaboration with the College of Nursing and the Department of Biomedical Engineering, The Pat Summitt Clinic has been awarded the FUSION grant (Faculty Understanding Science In Open Networks), sponsored by the University of Tennessee’s Office of Research and Engagement. The project will assess the impact of caregiver strain on caregiver’s cognitive function.

In addition to these initiatives, The Pat Summitt Clinic was present at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, increasing awareness of the clinic's services and research initiatives in an international stage.

Fundraising to Benefit Alzheimer's Research

While significant progress has been made in our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, the actual causes remain elusive and ongoing scientific research remains crucial for finding a cure. To expand Alzheimer’s disease research on the campus of The University of Tennessee Medical Center, former Regal Entertainment Group CEO Amy Miles has agreed to chair a major fundraising initiative to support research at The Pat Summitt Clinic.

Medical Director of The Pat Summitt Clinic, Roberto Fernandez, MD, MPH, PhD (left) stands with Amy Miles, former CEO of the Regal Entertainment Group (middle) and Russell Langdon, MD, Vice President of the Brain & Spine Institute at The University of Tennessee Medical Center. Miles will chair the clinic’s major fundraising campaign, the Alzheimer's Research Initiative, which culminates with An Evening In Orange in 2019.

The Alzheimer’s Research Initiative represents the evolution of the clinic as it continues to fulfill the organization’s mission to serve through healing, education and discovery, and grows toward becoming a nationally recognized Alzheimer’s disease center.

In conjunction with this initiative, the medical center announced Subimal Datta, MD, PhD, as The Pat Summitt Clinic Professor of Neurosciences, which will further strengthen the collaborative research efforts between The Pat Summitt Clinic, The University of Tennessee and University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine. Datta is known for his outstanding research in basic mechanisms responsible for sleep and the effects of stress on memory consolidation. In this new role, he will investigate the links between sleep cycle disturbances, stress and dementia, and in doing so will bring his nationally recognized research to the clinic.

Subimal Datta, PhD, professor of Research in the UT Graduate School of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology. In January 2018, Datta was named The Pat Summitt Clinic Professor of Neurosciences.

“Previous research has already identified that a lack of sleep can trigger early onset of all sorts of psychological disorders, such as dementia,” said Datta. For example, if someone is genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s, a consistent lack of sleep (fewer than six hours a night for 20 years), may trigger the disease 10 years earlier.

“A lot of progress has been made in understanding sleep and the brain over the last 50 years,” he said. “While we may never know all there is to know about it, we continue to do what we can to understand it better.”

The clinic is also adding research onsite, in a lab led by noted researcher Fernandez, which will open in 2018. "We'll be using brain wave studies (like EEGs) to identify measurable changes in brain activity that can detect disease early on, possibly before the first clinical symptoms" he said. "These brainwave signatures may help us understand critical changes in brain function that are part of disease, but may also contribute to its progression."

“As Alzheimer’s moves closer to becoming an epidemic in our country, it is imperative that we increase our research initiatives to ultimately find a cure” Fernandez said.

Click below to donate to the Alzheimer’s Research Initiative benefitting The Pat Summitt Clinic at UT Medical Center.

Offering Unprecedented Access to Clinical Trials

In its first year The Pat Summitt Clinic offered East Tennesseans with Alzheimer's unprecedented access to clinical trials, with plans to offer additional trials this year.

"This is a much-needed component to medical care for dementia patients in our region," Fernandez said.

Where scientific research projects occur in the laboratory, clinical trials rely on volunteers to help medical researchers answer questions about treatments for a variety of diseases and conditions. Clinical trials allow researchers to test the safety and effectiveness of drugs and medical procedures; as a result, these trials help set the standards for patient care.

Clinical trial volunteers also receive potential benefits. For instance, those with existing diseases or conditions can gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, play a more active role in their own health and help others by contributing to medical research.

Looking Toward the Future

Coach Pat Summitt is known for her mastery of teamwork – but she also knew her way around a good quote. One of her most recognized was, "Here's how I'm going to beat you. I'm going to outwork you. That's it. That's all there is to it.”

Her vision was to make a difference in the disease, starting in East Tennessee. By expanding access to education, patient and caregiver care, and clinical research, The Pat Summitt Clinic at The University of Tennessee Medical Center has already made an impact on thousands of lives. This impact will only grow in the years to come.

Visit The Pat Summitt Clinic online or call 865-305-2273 for more information about The Pat Summitt Clinic.

Team Member Spotlight: Sallie Gentry

Sallie Gentry, LCSW

Sallie Gentry, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), has worked with caregivers at The Pat Summitt Clinic since it opened. In addition to leading support groups, she meets one-on-one with the caregivers, who play a vital role in the health and well-being of dementia patients.

Alzheimer's takes a physical and emotional toll on caregivers. Sallie trains them to put themselves first, so they can keep caring for their loved ones.

"I liken it to the announcement you hear on the plane, about putting on your oxygen mask before you put on your child's," she says. "If the caregiver isn't available, the patient has nobody to help them."


Photography By Dean Baker

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