Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center Establishes Comprehensive ALS Center

June 22, 2021

Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center has established an interprofessional Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Center which brings together all of the specialists a patient and family may need in one clinic, during one visit. The new ALS Center is the second such program in the Hackensack Meridian Health network, the other being at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS affects the function of the motor system and the muscles it connects to. This neurodegenerative disease progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Patients lose their ability to move, experience problems with speaking, eating, and swallowing, and in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed — leading to significant disability and ultimately death. The typical survival time is three years. There is no cure, making research to understand and better manage ALS all the more important.

“Just over than 6,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, which translates to 15 new cases a day, and more than 20,000 Americans have the disease at any given time,” said Robert Connors, M.D., neurologist and neuromuscular specialist who directs the ALS Center with Florian Thomas, M.D., Ph.D., chair, Department of Neurology and Neuroscience Institute, Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center, and Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “Families watch in despair as patients lose their ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow, and breathe. It is our goal to support patients and families as much as we can using the latest approaches to give them the best lives possible, with the goal of someday reducing the burden of this disease through the development of effective treatments.”

At Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center’s ALS Center, patients have access to all of the health care experts they need, including specialists from neurology, nursing, health psychology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, social work, nutrition, speech/language pathology, and palliative care. Services include:

  • Neurological evaluation to make and confirm the correct diagnosis
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Swallow and speech therapy
  • Nutritional guidance and support
  • Nursing care
  • Respiratory care
  • Psychological support
  • Social services

“This new center will provide our patients with the latest comprehensive medical services to improve their quality of life and that of their family members,” said Mark Sparta, president and chief hospital executive, Hackensack University Medical Center. “I believe it and will pave the way for the future of ALS care.”

Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center is a member of the Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS), a group of research centers recognized for their ability to perform clinical trials in people with ALS and other motor neuron diseases. Dr. Thomas collaborated with colleagues at NIH, Harvard and Johns Hopkins on a study of juvenile ALS that will soon appear in Nature Medicine. Together with the ALS Association, the integrated interprofessional team of experts offers comprehensive care and provides the support, services, and assistive devices needed to enable patients to optimize independence in their daily lives.

“There may not be a cure for ALS, but we are committed to providing comprehensive, easily accessible care to support patients and their families as soon as they are diagnosed,” explained Dr. Thomas.

“Patients need to see multiple providers to get the care they need. Our center provides comprehensive care using a one-stop-shopping model. The providers come to the patient, rather than having the patient go from provider to provider,” added Claire Gibbons, P.T., Director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Hackensack University Medical Center.

To learn more about ALS care at Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center or to make an appointment, please call 551-996-8100.