CRH Introduces New Pulmonology and Sleep Center Care

The newest specialist to join the team at Calais Regional Hospital is Dr. Francis Lee, who is triple board-certified in pulmonology, sleep, and internal medicine. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson


Residents of Washington County will soon have access to a dramatically improved sleep lab and pulmonology center at Calais Regional Hospital [CRH] as a result of the hiring of Dr. Francis Lee. Triple board-certified in pulmonary, sleep, and internal medicine, Dr. Lee brings with him a demonstrable passion for addressing the often-intertwined issues associated with breathing, sleep habits, and cardiological care. 

“Sleep is a passion of mine,” Dr. Lee said. He described how sleep disorders contribute to an increased risk of cancer, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes while sleeping, irregular heartbeats, heart failure, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. By addressing issues related to sleep, Dr. Lee is confident that it will contribute to the community’s overall health.

Since arriving in the area two weeks ago, Dr. Lee has already begun dramatically revamping the on-site sleep lab at CRH. New monitoring equipment is being installed and assembled under Dr. Lee’s direction to provide local patients and providers with in-house readings of the relevant data. While there was previously a sleep lab at CRH, the readings that would be gained during the overnight process were sent out to an external specialist and returned to local providers, reducing the potential level of communication between provider and specialist. 

Aside from the benefit of having in-house readings, the new sleep lab will enable providers to determine the best path forward for care once issues are identified. “We want to be able to identify more than just the common garden variety sleep apnea,” Dr. Lee said, explaining how the lab will be able to detect sleep walking, sleep talking, REM behavior disorders, nocturnal epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, and a host of other issues. The hospital will be aiming to acquire full accreditation with the American Association of Sleep Medicine. “It reflects well on us as a hospital, but it also raises the level of awareness in the community of sleep disorders and encourages people with those issues to come forward.”

While there are obvious health benefits to having properly diagnosed sleep-related issues, there are also cost benefits on each side of the equation. Some patients who experience high blood pressure that isn’t responding to multiple medications may find better relief if they are instead treated for the sleep apnea they are actually suffering from, thus saving them money on ineffective monthly prescriptions. On the hospital side, savings are realized when patients who are coming in for recurring problems, such as congestive heart failure, are treated for their associated sleep disorder in conjunction. 

There is a significant demand for the sleep lab already, with patients being booked out to February, Dr. Lee said. To reduce the length of booking time, the hospital has hired a second sleep technician. “Our goal is to get the wait time down to four weeks,” Dr. Lee said.

On the pulmonary side of the equation, Dr. Lee welcomes any patient experiencing any kind of respiratory distress that is not being successfully treated through their primary care provider. Patients that have persistent asthma, COPD, wheezing, or a cough are among those who should be referred to a specialist, Dr. Lee advises. “It’s a good thing to do, because they’ll get more appropriate therapy. It saves on healthcare dollars, because they won’t land in ER.”

Additionally, patients who have had spots detected on their lungs via X-Rays or CAT scans should see a specialist to have the spots assessed. While those that are smaller than a quarter may be biopsied traditionally via a needle through the chest, Dr. Lee will be introducing a new form of detection for those spots that are larger. Known as navigational bronchoscopy, the system uses GPS to guide the specialist to the spot while producing a live image of the patient’s inner workings. “This will be a very valuable tool in terms of the lung cancer screening that the hospital is embarking upon,” Dr. Lee said, referencing an initiative he and radiology head Dr. Robert Leatherman are undergoing to utilize low dose CT scans for at-risk patients. 

Another major element that Dr. Lee will be establishing within the next 3-6 months is a pulmonary rehabilitation center. While the hospital has an existing center, Dr. Lee will introduce more modules and turn it into a certified rehabilitation center to stabilize patients needing advanced care. He also plans to introduce support groups. “It’s not a glamorous aspect of pulmonary medicine, but I’m a big fan of it, because if it was a drug, it would be a blockbuster,” Dr. Lee said, referring to how people with chronic conditions can suffer from depression and loneliness. 

It is clear that Dr. Lee is bringing many standard of care treatment options to the Calais area over the next year, which will have a direct impact on local residents seeking convenient, effective, and cost-saving measures. Significantly, both the sleep center and the pulmonology center are considered allowable costs for Medicare reimbursement, meaning the new services will help the hospital remain financially viable as they are utilized.