Bariatric support group at JFK Medical Center connects during COVID pandemic

Members of the Bariatric Surgery Support Group gather for the first in-person, socially distant meeting in the JFK for Life office parking lot.PHOTO COURTESY OF HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH
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Members of the Bariatric Surgery Support Group gather for the first in-person, socially distant meeting in the JFK for Life office parking lot.PHOTO COURTESY OF HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH

Hackensack Meridian JFK Medical Center has kept patients at its popular JFK for Life bariatric surgery support group connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through virtual seminars and appropriately distanced outdoor meetings, the support group has continued to provide insight, perspective and real-world experiences from and for those who have had weight-loss surgery, according to information provided by Hackensack Meridian Health. By July, the group was meeting outside, minimizing risk with social distancing, masks and fresh air, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In April, we began holding the meetings two to three times a month virtually,” Patricia Sullivan, RN, coordinator of the Bariatrics Program, said in the statement. “We started with a few members and eventually more and more patients were able to utilize the technology to participate.”

The support group provides more than just social and emotional support; it offers an opportunity for learning followed by an open discussion. The group follows a structured agenda, featuring scheduled topic presentations and discussions on nutritional, medical, psychological, and social issues. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has focused on how to stay on track with their weight loss during these periods of quarantine and working from home, according to the statement.

“Daily schedules and habits have changed quite a bit since many people are spending more time at home because of the pandemic,” Amie Thornton, chief hospital executive, JFK Medical Center, said in the statement. “Being home more can interfere with progress for patients who are on a weight-loss journey. Our virtual and outdoor options were developed to provide outlets where members can share their thoughts and challenges, as well as discuss ways to develop new strategies for maintaining a healthy lifestyle during this challenging time.”

In July, when New Jersey’s public gathering restrictions were eased, the group conducted its first in-person, socially distanced meeting in the JFK for Life office parking lot. It was a big success and the members were delighted to see one another again—even if it meant sitting 6 feet apart and wearing masks. Adapting to outdoor format with the new virtual gathering has been successful, according to the statement. Members now have two ways to share lifestyle solutions and help each other reach and sustain healthy weight – for life.

Patients at JFK for Life are incredibly involved in their care and extremely dedicated to the program.

“Over the past year, two of our members moved out of the area—one to Florida and one to Washington state,” Sullivan said in the statement. “Both were thrilled to be able to remain part of the group via the virtual platform.”

“The support group has been very important and helpful to me on my journey,” JoAnn Tropiano, a 73-year-old group member who had bariatric surgery six years ago, said in the statement. “I have come to depend on the group for helpful tips and support.”

Having moved to Washington state to be closer to her daughter, Tropiano tried to find another support group but was not successful.

“Even though family is close, the COVID-19 shut down has been isolating. I feared that I would undo all the good that I had achieved,” she said in the statement.

After receiving an email from Pat Sullivan that the support group was going to start up again virtually, Tropiano called right away to see if she could participate.

“Even though I left the group geographically and the group was meeting virtually, I felt like I never left,” Tropiano said in the statement. “The group has saved my sanity. Reconnecting has helped me see that everyone is experiencing the same feelings and facing the challenges in different ways.”

The group plans to host another virtual meeting for any member that wishes to participate and will hold its second outdoor meeting this month.