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Introducing the Centers of Excellence Series

January 2017

Something resonated with me on my recent visit to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence (COE). As I listened to the Parkinson’s patients and caregivers panel, I was impressed to learn that everyone unanimously agreed on the vital importance of team care. From the movement disorder specialist to the nurse, everyone kept referring to “our” care plan. It was working. Patients felt like they were being individually cared for and listened to. I left inspired.

This is what a Center of Excellence offers to people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Each of our centers are different, but they all offer expert care, conduct life-changing research and train the next generation of PD health care professionals.  

Each center develops unique, innovative PD programs, rooted in care, research and education. These programs inspired me to begin a new series of articles, the Center of Excellence Series, where centers are highlighted and their programs are shared as a resource with the Parkinson’s community, health care professionals, and even fellow centers. Each month, NPF will publish a new article about a center program to show how expert care can help people affected by Parkinson’s live a better life now.

Each center is designated for its expertise in Parkinson’s and the high-quality care they provide to a combined 108,139 patients. Currently, our network is comprised of 40 centers — 26 inside the United States and 14 in other countries.

When the program started, it was focused on how to build centers. NPF worked to disseminate knowledge of how the pioneers had transformed Parkinson’s clinics into Parkinson’s centers. Today, the center model is well established and now the leading centers are added to the original model drawing on their unique perspective. They have built on concepts like interdisciplinary clinic days, a “one-stop shop,” where a patient sees multiple team members, who all meet to discuss the patient’s future care and treatment.  They’ve gone far beyond the original model with programs like ParkinsonNet, Operation House Call, Strive to Thrive and Medications on Time. There are many trailblazing programs offered at centers today that you’ll soon read about.

Almost thirty centers now participate in our Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson’s disease, with nearly 10,000 patients enrolled across four countries. This ground-breaking initiative enables us to track, monitor and most importantly, improve patient care over time.

Not only do centers care for their patients — our Centers of Excellence care about their patients. Eighty-three percent of them offer support groups and wellness programs that cater to the emotional, social, and physical wellbeing of patients, caregivers and the entire PD community. Some centers even offer the classes and groups in Spanish, Russian and Chinese.

It is such an honor to have the opportunity to work with the amazing clinicians who are making life better for people living with Parkinson’s — both in the care they provide and by teaching others how to make a difference.  When I was conducting PD research, I never thought I’d soon have the chance to work so closely with the clinicians and scientists whose work was informing my investigations. Now, as the director of the program, I’m excited to showcase the distinctive and revolutionary Center of Excellence programs through the Center of Excellence Series.

Clarissa Martinez-Rubio is the Director of Research and Center Programs at the National Parkinson Foundation, a division of the Parkinson’s Foundation. Previously, Clarissa worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School as an Instructor in Neurosurgery. She completed her PhD in Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Center followed by her postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School focusing in Deep Brain Stimulation and Neuromodulation.