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Published: Monday, 5/22/2006

Sleep disorder firm serves a field with growing needs

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Dr. Siobhan Kuhar, left, and Dr. Raymond Bourey study patient test results at the Regional Center for Sleep Medicine. Dr. Siobhan Kuhar, left, and Dr. Raymond Bourey study patient test results at the Regional Center for Sleep Medicine.
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Starting with a handful of sleep disorder treatment centers 15 years ago, Toledo psychologist Joseph Shaffer has developed a consortium of nearly three dozen such clinics scattered across the nation.

"We're constantly trying to grow," Mr. Shaffer, president of the Sleep Network Inc., said as he puffed on a pipe in his West Toledo office.

The firm, which operates a clinic in the Franklin Park area and has corporate headquarters near Westgate Village Shopping Center, expects to open four to five centers this year.

As the medical community and society in general have come to recognize the impact of problems caused by lack of sleep and poor-quality sleep, the demand for treatment has skyrocketed.

"As more people recognize that sleep plays such an important role in their health more and more sleep centers are opening to serve the public need," said Marci Cleary, spokesman for the National Sleep Foundation in Washington.

The number of sleep clinics accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Westchester, Ill., has tripled since 1996 to just under 1,000.

"One third of the population has insomnia," said Raymond Bourey, a physician who is medical director of Mr. Shaffer's Toledo center. He said sleep deprivation is a major factor in highway crashes and other accidents.

Sleep Network President Joseph Shaffer, whose firm serves patients in nine states, started the firm after realizing that the field is underserved. He is 78 but has no plans to retire. Sleep Network President Joseph Shaffer, whose firm serves patients in nine states, started the firm after realizing that the field is underserved. He is 78 but has no plans to retire.
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Treatment typically begins with an overnight stay at a clinic like Mr. Shaffer's Regional Center for Sleep Medicine, near Westfield Franklin Park. With a collection of cozy bedrooms, the facility resembles more an inviting bed-and-breakfast inn than a medical facility.

From a rear control room, technicians keep close watch on the sleeping patient and data coming in from machines that monitor breathing, brain activity, and other functions.

Trained medical professionals later interpret the results and recommend a course of treatment, which can include medication, use of breathing aids, and, sometimes, surgery.

Fees vary. Medicare, the national health insurance plan covering elderly Americans, pays $600 for a sleep study.

Mr. Shaffer, a longtime university lecturer who drifted into sleep research, developed expertise in setting up and operating sleep clinics while serving as director of such a facility at Toledo's St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center beginning in 1983.

"I realized there was a pressing need for this," he said. Sleep Network was born in 1991, but Mr. Shaffer remained at St. Vincent until 1999.

Spread over nine states, those facilities include centers owned outright by the Sleep Network, centers owned jointly with physicians, and hospital-based centers for which the firm provides staffing and management services. The largest center is in Chicago, and there are eight in the Toledo area.

The field is underserved and competitive. Various operators aggressively pursue each other's management contracts, according to physicians in the field.

Sleep Network's Toledo corporate staff, which includes 25 employees, assists potential center sponsors in conducting feasibility studies to determine need.

Mr. Shaffer, who trains physicians in sleep medicine, moved to northwest Ohio in 1966 to join the psychology department at the University of Toledo. That followed four years on the staff of Temple University, Philadelphia. At 78, he is well past usual retirement age, but he has no interest in retiring.

"I don't consider this work," he said. "This is my passion."

Contact Gary T. Pakulski at: gpakulski@theblade.com or 419-724-6082.

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