What to look for in a rehab provider

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Patient Ethan Myers at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services uses the Bioness 200 to stimulate hand movement.

When people think about rehabilitation, they often think about recovering from amputations, strokes or other significant life-altering medical conditions that require physical therapy. And while they may turn to medications for minor aches and pains, rehab can be beneficial to patients suffering from dizziness or sore extremities, conditions that require occupational therapy treatment.

Physical therapy includes skills such as walking and self-propelling a wheelchair; occupational therapy helps with fine motor skills, such as putting a shirt on and buttoning it. But both can be part of a complete rehabilitation program. The key to successful treatment is for patients to understand that rehab is just one part of “whole” treatment.

Memorial Health System outpatient services at Printers Park Medical Plaza provides services ranging from occupational therapy to speech therapy to cardiac to neurological treatments. The facility also has a separate pediatric rehabilitation unit.

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services offers rehabilitation services that include physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and audiology. Treatments for balance, incontinence, sports injuries, lymphedema and neurological conditions also are available. Penrose does not offer pediatric rehabilitation care.

State-of-the-art equipment

The list of services and equipment used in a rehab center seems endless. For example, to keep up with the latest technology, Penrose has added equipment such as the iBOT, the Bioness 200 and the Bioness L300.

The iBOT Mobility Stystem, which has five operating functions such as navigating uneven terrain and curbs and elevating to eye-level, is used with patients confined to wheelchairs.

The Bioness 200 helps treat stroke, spinal cord or brain injured patients with upper limb paralysis. It uses a remote microprocessor to pre-program the level and cycle of stimulation in hand movements.

The Bioness L300 helps decrease drop foot, using electrical stimulation to facilitate the muscle that lifts the foot. It is helpful in treating patients with neurological conditions such as stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, and other conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

Narrowing the choices

There are numerous outpatient rehab clinics in Colorado Springs. Some focus specifically on hand and orthopedic therapy and others on speech and hearing.

A primary factor to consider when deciding which provider to use is convenience, said Michael Bigelow, director of outpatient adult rehabilitation services for Memorial Health System. Patients must consider location, appointment hours and availability of other forms of therapy without having to switch providers.

Price is a farther down the list when choosing a provider because of the third party payment system, Bigelow said

The normal treatment schedule for rehab appointments is one to three times a week for two to three months. The maximum time would be about six months, for something such as a stroke or complex neurological injury, Bigelow said.

With competition increasing, some alternative types of therapy, such as acupuncture and massage, are being added to the services provided by traditional health care providers. “We try to integrate those that are more medically based,” Bigelow said.

Penrose also made acupuncture available for patients with acute and chronic pain. Additional conditions can be treated with acupuncture such as asthma, anxiety, depression, arthritis and dizziness.

First-hand experience

Dr. J. Glen House, medical director of Penrose Hospital’s Center for Neuro & Trauma Rehabilitation, has been with the Penrose-St. Francis rehabilitation team since 2001. House is a regional expert in rehabilitation of spinal cord injury and brain injury.

“I like the complex neurological cases that start to involve every system of the body,” he said, perhaps because he has experienced it first-hand.

House suffered a spinal cord injury during a ski accident when he was 20. He has limited dexterity in his arms and no use of his legs.

Most of the patients he works with are experiencing what he did. “I live it daily — (I) don’t have to just tell them I read about it,” he said.

After such traumatic injuries, patients experience a range of emotional and psychological challenges, he said, and it’s important not to simply “focus on one thing they can’t do.”

House is launching a resource and support group Web site in September called Disaboom.com. The site will include information about the Americans with Disabilities Act and post jobs for people with disabilities, he said.

Rehabilitation helps an individual achieve the highest level of function and independence. It does not reverse or undo the damage, but rather helps restore the individual to optimal health.

“It gets them back to where they were,” Bigelow said.

Joan.johnson@csbj.com