One Year Later: Pritikin ICR at Sentara CarePlex

Woman walks on a sidewick along a manicured path into the Sentara CarePlex Intensive Cardiac Rehab building.
  • March 15, 2024

“YES, the Pritikin program is life changing for those willing to put in the time, but that is only because of how great this [Sentara] team is. I could not ask for better results that I got from this program.”

-Donna M. Gagnon, BSN, RN, NHDC, ICR Manager

One of the things I enjoy most about working with the Sentara CarePlex hospital’s cardiac rehab team is their enthusiasm and willingness to adapt in the spirit of continuous improvement. I was reminded of that during a recent site visit when we were able to recognize an opportunity and they were able to come up with a solution on the spot. The experience reminded me that Donna Gagnon and her team have something truly special going on in Hampton, VA. It takes a group dedicated to patient success and open communication to implement all the positive adjustments they’ve made to their program in the past 13 months!

Just over a year ago, the Sentara CarePlex Hospital cardiac rehab department became the second Sentara location to transition their offering from traditional cardiac rehab to Pritikin ICR. From their first introduction to the program, they were all engaged and curious to see how their partnership with Pritikin would pay off. Just how much would Pritikin impact their day-to-day interactions with patients? What might their patients expect from the Pritikin program? Would the increased time intensive cardiac rehab offers really make that much of a difference in patient outcomes?

We recently connected with Donna to learn more about Sentara’s experience with the Pritikin ICR program, she had plenty to share!

From CR to ICR

In general, when transitioning from one routine to another, there tends to be an adjustment period. While it certainly took some getting used to Pritikin ICR, Donna and her team hit the ground running with optimistic enthusiasm. It didn’t take long for them to appreciate the fruits of their labor.

“We were immediately impressed with the level of education that we were providing to our patients.”

To maintain their program’s AACVPR certification, the cardiac rehab team routinely performs patient outcome assessments. Those assessments helped to identify the measurable changes in patient outcomes before and after implementing the Pritikin program. It was evident that the comprehensive Pritikin curriculum, complete with workshops, lesson plans, and patient materials, was making more of an impact than what had been offered before.

Staff Observations

One area where the team recognized noticeable improvement was in patient weight loss. That change can be attributed to a few factors.

Bar graph tittled "Nutrition & Weight Loss Outcomes/ 2022-2023". In 2022, Avg Weight Loss = .58% while in 2023 = 1.6%. % Patients with weight loss in 2022 = 53%; 2023 = 71%, Rate Your Plate Improvement in 2022=8.6%; 2023=13.3%

Prior to adopting Pritikin ICR, they were only able to offer one group education class per month. The classes offered alternated between a healthy eating class and a second class dedicated to stress management. In 2022, 43% of patients attended the diet class. Even fewer ( 20%) attended the stress management class.

Now, they have two dedicated dietitians on staff providing education sessions up to 3 times per week! Beyond that, all patients have 1:1consultations with dietitians to help them meet their unique goals.

Their education attendance has consistently remained above the national average!

Sentara’s CarePlex hospital’s improved outcomes don’t end there. As you can see below, they’ve seen improvements in all areas!

Bar chart titled "Outcomes - 2022 vs 2023". PHQ9 Severity Improvement in 2022 = 60%; 2023=73%, Quality of Life 2022=17.7%; 2023=17.8%, Functional Improvement 2022=65%; 2023=93.1%, HF Goal 2022=91%; 2023=94.7%, BP Goal 2022=80%; 2023=81%


Staff engagement

One of the best parts about our work in developing the Pritikin curriculum is seeing it come to life through dynamic teams like this one! From their enthusiasm and experience to their dedication to patients, every person in the cardiac rehab department at Sentara CarePlex Hospital brings something special to the program. One of the team’s superstars is their dietitian, Denise Keller, RD.

Not only is she an expert in heart-healthy eating – she truly practices what she preaches! She has a special way of making all our patients feel welcome in all the nutrition classes she teaches. Her ability to encourage, connect with, and listen to patients makes them feel comfortable discussing and working on their personal dietary goals.


She’s enjoyed working with the Pritikin program so much that she’s volunteered to be a part of their marketing campaign and has even been interviewed in a local news program to promote their ICR program! Later this month, she will be sharing about her experiences at the upcoming VACVPR conference.

Ready for a day of work during Heart Month, the Sentara CarePlex team of 9 people stand in a group wearing red shirts. They are behind a front desk that has a few computer stations. On the desk ledge are a number of papers, flyers, and folders.
The Sentara CarePlex Team
Denise Keller, RD stands behind her cooking cart smiling at the camera. A mirror is angled above her cook station to make viewing what she is making easier.
Denise Keller, RD at her cooking cart before she begins teaching a cooking school lesson.
The SentaraCarePlex Cooking School cart with a display of sodium free spices and seasonings
The SentaraCarePlex Cooking School cart with a display of sodium-free spices and seasonings.
5 members of the ICR staff wear red shirts and stand behind three long tables. On the tables are healthy breakfast options.

The Sentara CarePlex team hosted an employee event for their peers where they highlighted their ICR program, shared heart-healthy education, and breakfast samples!

Hospital employees mill around the hall way looking at the display set up by the 5 members of the ICR team who are wearing red shirts and stand behind three long tables. On the tables are healthy breakfast options.

The Sentara CarePlex team hosted an employee event for their peers where they highlighted their ICR program, shared heart-healthy education, and breakfast samples!

A cooking cart decorated with valentines day hearts and heart shaped balloons. On the cart is an instant pot, some spices and other ingredients and a woman standing behind the cart wearing a pink sweater and navy blue apron. She is teaching the cooking school class that day.
Cooking School on Valentine's Day.
A white woman with medium length brown hair stands at a podium with a clicker in her right hand pointed to a presentation slide. She is smiling at the camera with her left hand extended.

Kirsten Soistmann, RN presenting a workshop.

Patient Responses

While the quantitative improvements are inspiring, one of the most positive things to have come from switching to the Pritikin curriculum is the patient response. Patients are consistently expressing their satisfaction with the education they receive. They really appreciate the individualized approach that allows them to tailor their cardiac rehab experience to best meet their needs.

If you ask anyone on the team to tell you what the most popular session is, they’d all let you know – everyone looks forward to Cooking Schools! Multiple patients have let Donna’s team know just how much the program meant to them. One patient, Jewel Bass, was so happy with the care she received, she shared her story on Sentara’s Who Has Your Heart blog (we encourage you to check it out). After completing the program, another patient shared the letter below.

“I wanted to take this time to thank you all for providing such a great program, this has been a life changing experience not only for myself but my wife and son as well. I have done several diabetes classes to no avail, but thanks to the Pritikin plan that this team expertly teaches, I have been able to lower my A1C and both my wife and I have lost over 35lbs each. I truly feel this is only the beginning of long-term life changes for both of us.

This team has done a wonderful job of helping me understand the medicines I'm on and how they can affect me as well as how exercise and proper diet can lead to a healthier heart and life as well as possibly reducing some of the medicines I'm on.

I have recommended this program to two people that I know that are going through some type of cardiac event at this time and will continue to recommend this team to anyone I meet in need of any type of cardiac rehab.

There are not enough words that I can share to express my thanks and appreciation to this team for helping, teaching and motivating me to make these life changes. This program is life changing for those willing to put in the time, but that is only because of how Great this team is. I could not ask for better results than I got from this program."

After just one year of using the Pritikin curriculum, Sentara CarePlex Hospital has proven they offer a model ICR program. Donna and her team are excited to share the Pritikin program with the rest of Sentara’s cardiac rehab departments across the region. For our part, we are honored to be a part of their continued improvement!

Keep up the great work, Sentara CarePlex Hospital!


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Whether at the long-standing Pritikin Longevity Center or one of our many licensed ICR facilities nationwide, Pritikin is making life-changing impacts on thousands of lives, every day.  Hear directly from providers and patients as you learn more about our decades-long history and our continued message of healing and hope.