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Restoring Hope Through Rehabilitation

Albany, GA

The Albany Herald
Jennifer Maddox Parks

ALBANY, Ga. -- The primary goal at the Phoebe North Campus Inpatient Rehabilitation Center is to restore a patient back to the functionality he or she was at before the incident that got them in the hospital to begin with.

Some people have a longer journey than others, depending on the circumstances.

"Every patient deserves to be independent," said Sarah Rowan, a speech therapist at the center. "When that is taken away from you, it devastates you and the family. Our job is to restore that hope.

"Some may not be able to go back, but with rehab, it is a step closer."

Officials say the rehab space that had been utilized at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital through 2012 was located in the oldest part of the hospital, resulting in a lack of sufficient space, but that unit did have more optimal beds and equipment to work with.

The former Palmyra Medical Center, on the other hand, had the rehab space Phoebe's main campus did not. When the two centers were combined in July of last year, it apparently made for a strong match.

"We were able to bring the equipment and space together and bring in new therapists and nurses," Rowan said. "Blending of those personalities has made for a great team."

As the rehab center at Phoebe North stands now, there is a floor containing a gymnasium and recreation room. On the second floor is a dining room -- a feature Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's center did not have -- as well as 25 patient rooms.

Patients generally come in through the south entrance of the hospital, either via a van transport from somewhere else in the Phoebe Putney Health System or via ambulance for those coming in from outside the region.

While bringing patients back to functionality, the staff's job is to educate them on what their new limitations are. A stroke victim, for example, will often start with communication therapy -- including exercises on cognition, swallowing and speech.

There is also occupational therapy, which involves training to perform daily tasks such as dressing and bathing -- sometimes with just one hand -- and then physical therapy, which includes walking and mobilization exercises.

The final component is recreation therapy, which can give patients the opportunity to see they can still socialize, relax and take part in many of the activities they once did.

"They learn to do these things with their deficit and make themselves stronger," Rowan said. "... There is not a single part that is more important. We are all a team."

Rehab is different from an acute-care setting, officials say, in that there is generally more time for a bond to form between a therapist and a patient.

"We get a chance to love them through the process," Rowan, who has spent 12 of her 16 years with Phoebe working in rehab, said. "... The work is more intensive, and the bond is more lasting (in a rehab center)."

There is no defined service area for the rehab center, resulting in patients coming in from various places -- even from as far away as Macon or Columbus. Over the last two months, the average daily census has hovered around 15 or 16 people.

"(The census) has gone up steadily since we've merged," said Kristy Kruger, the inpatient rehab program director at Phoebe North.

The rehab facility at Phoebe's main campus had an overall square footage of 8,600 with 18 beds. At Phoebe North, over two floors, 23,400-square-feet of space is being used for the purposes of inpatient rehab.

Kruger said more than 50 percent of the nursing staff at the center is certified in the field of rehabilitation, and the average therapist is a 10-13-year veteran of inpatient rehabilitation. Among the staff, there is a commitment to giving patients a minimum of three hours worth of strength training and therapy daily.

"I can definitely see a difference in patient satisfaction (since the rehab consolidation)," Kruger said. "There is more space and a better bed for patients to lay their heads on.

Perhaps one of the brightest spots for the center, Kruger said, is in terms of quality performance -- with more than 88.6 percent of its patients gaining the functional independence they need to return home rather than being sent to a skilled nursing facility.

"In 2011, before the merger, Palmyra sent 80 percent of their patients home, and Phoebe sent back 85 percent," Kruger said. "Now we are sending back 88 percent."

Stroke patients make for the largest caseload at the center, followed by hip fractures and cardiovascular patients.

The center recently brought on a second full-time admissions coordinator, who Kruger said is being made available to educate the community -- eventually through area civic clubs and organizations -- regarding admission criteria into the center.

"Our goal is to educate the region and increase patient load," Kruger said.

Recent federal court orders are currently barring further progress at Phoebe North until an administrative law judge considers the Federal Trade Commission's complaint challenging the $195 million purchase of the hospital in December 2011 as anticompetitive.

Should the results of the trial, set to begin Aug. 5, and the related appeals work in Phoebe's favor, there are plans to potentially make use of a space on the third floor of Phoebe North currently sitting empty for an expansion of the rehab center.

The additional 11,000 square feet of space, Kruger said, would be utilized for patient beds.

"We could handle 50, but we are not set up to do that," she said."

Read this article on the Albany Herald Website.

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