School psychologist Richard Kapusta, a 40-year veteran of the Bethel Park School District, underwent multiple surgeries on his right eye following complications from a cataract procedure.

About one week following the procedure, which was conducted in the summer of 2016, Kapusta noticed what he described as a gray spot that obscured part of his vision. He returned to the doctors who performed his surgery and they said he needed emergency surgery on that eye. Kapusta had suffered two retinal detachments and five retinal tears in his eye.

The procedure was performed and things went well for a time, but then additional complications arose. Another detachment occurred in Kapusta’s eye and he had to go through the procedure again. Following that surgery Kapusta ended up on multiple eye medications to prevent an increase in pressure, swelling and inflammation in his eye.

In order to ensure he was on the road to recovery Kapusta says his wife encouraged him to take advantage of a new program St. Clair Hospital offered — a collaboration with the famed Mayo Clinic. A free service for hospital patients, the collaboration helps patients get answers to complex medical questions from one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the world.

“They confirmed everything my doctor was doing,” Kapusta says.

In addition to the confirmation the Mayo Clinic specialists also offered some suggestions for treatment should Kapusta not respond to the different drops he is currently taking.

Having that confirmation was important to Kapusta and his wife. The fact that specialists supported the treatments prescribed by his St. Clair physicians put the Kapustas at ease and removed second-guessing from their lives. Over the past year the treatments have significantly reduced the pressure and swelling around Kapusta’s eye. The number of doctor visits have lessened as well, allowing him to enjoy a high quality of life in his retirement, which began in January 2017.

“All in all I’m extremely pleased,” Kapusta says of his experience with St. Clair and the Mayo Clinic.

The positive experience and the security from knowing specialists with the pedigree of the Mayo Clinic were available for treatment consultation gave Kapusta and his wife a lot of comfort. It is an experience he would recommend to any St. Clair patient who wanted a second opinion or some kind of support.

St. Clair officials said the one-year-old collaboration between the hospital and the Mayo Clinic has been highly successful. After a lengthy process St. Clair Hospital became a member of the Mayo Clinic Care network. Through that network St. Clair has access to the Mayo Clinic’s medical knowledge and clinical expertise. Becoming part of the Mayo Clinic network provides invaluable resources to St. Clair, including consultations, a database for clinically vetted information on the evaluation and treatment of various medical conditions and more. St. Clair Hospital providers can access the Mayo Clinic’s extensive library of patient education materials and archived Mayo Clinic grand rounds presentations that feature Mayo Clinic physicians and scientists, hospital officials say.

“It’s a way to access the expertise of one of the most renowned medical practices in the world,” says Meredith Borst, the executive director of strategic initiatives at St. Clair.

The collaboration puts the knowledge of the Mayo Clinic specialists in St. Clair Hospital. Doctors and patients can consult with the world-renowned specialists from Pennsylvania and not have to travel to Minnesota. Having that access to the Mayo Clinic is a benefit when it comes to patient confidence, Borst says.

So far approximately 90 percent of St. Clair diagnoses, such as Kapusta’s, have been confirmed by the Mayo Clinic when a collaboration has been requested, Dr. Alan Yeasted, St. Clair’s chief medical officer says.

When a free consultation with the Mayo Clinic is requested the hospital sends electronic copies of all pertinent medical data, such as blood work, MRI results or X-rays, to the Mayo Clinic doctors. Doctors in Minnesota then review the data and respond to St. Clair within a matter of days. Yeasted says the timing is critical for patients who do not have to wait a long time before visiting with a specialist.

Through its collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, the hospital has received medical support across all levels of specialties. Because of that Yearsted said it shows the broad impact the relationship has on the St. Clair organization as a whole.

“The physicians at Mayo will look at all results, original pathology and do their own read to validate what they have seen at St. Clair,” says Kaitlin Shotsberger, the director of clinical quality and care management at St. Clair. “This is a tremendous benefit to the patients in the south hills of Pittsburgh.”

It was that patient-centeredness idea that sparked St. Clair’s interest in becoming part of the Mayo Clinic network of hospitals. Shotsberger says the Mayo Clinic is “really focused on patient experience.” The hospital sees the relationship with the Mayo Clinic as an enhancement to the medical services it already offers and is a way to take the hospital to the “next level” as a care provider.

“We’re always thinking about innovative ways to help our patients,” Shotsberger says. This is about our patients receiving the best care. If they (the Mayo Clinic) offer a second opinion at no additional cost, that’s high value for our patients and community.”

With one year of collaboration under the hospital’s belt, Borst says St. Clair is looking at broader ways of tapping into the Mayo Clinic as well as other hospitals in the network.

“We’ve taken advantage of the second-opinion aspect of our relationship, but now we looking at ways to clinically take advantage of the Mayo Clinic,” Borst says. “As an organization we want to be a top-decile performer. This has been an element of sustaining that performance and continuing that drive to be the very best.”