HealthSouth adds oncology rehab

HealthSouth CEO Steve Schaefer explains equipment designed to help MS patients walk.

HealthSouth CEO Steve Schaefer explains equipment designed to help MS patients walk.

Colorado Springs’ HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital has played a quiet role in bolstering the community’s well-being for more than two decades. The hospital recently achieved the Oncology Rehab Partners’ STAR Program (Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation) Certification in order to provide therapy to cancer patients, and expanded its footprint this week by adding oncology rehabilitation to its substantial list of services.

“Oncology rehabilitation therapy is very similar to therapy provided to patients who are overcoming serious illnesses or injuries and targets issues such as fatigue, pain, anemia and decreased endurance that are a result of undergoing aggressive and debilitating treatments for cancer,” according to a news release provided by the hospital.

“We serve a specialty niche within the health care spectrum,” CEO Steve Schaefer said. “The types of patients we see a lot of times are suffering from neurological conditions, strokes, [multiple sclerosis], Parkinson’s. 

“We’ve been developing niches around key programs. Two years ago we became a Stroke Center of Excellence through The Joint Commission. We’ve earned [rehabilitation] certification through the National MS Society and the [Multiple Sclerosis] Alliance. This year we’re looking at the oncology world.”

He said there were several steps taken in preparation for the new program. The first was educating the staff, Schaefer said. Twenty-five staff members went through an oncology rehabilitation certification program, at a cost of about $25,000. The 25 certified staffers had been training the rest of the faculty prior to the program’s launch.

“It was college-class intensive,” Schaefer said. “You not only learn about all the cancers out there, but then you learn about rehabilitations for them. No two cancers are the same.”

Schaefer said the second task was identifying tools to measure success and properly preparing the facilities, and that changes were implemented based on employee input. The final component, he said, involves educating the community.

‘Compassionate boot camp’

Schaefer said patients come from a variety of settings, including acute care discharges, physician referrals and home care settings, adding the hospital is a “compassionate boot camp.”

“We work patients very hard here,” he said. “We do three hours of therapy a day or up to 15 hours a week. That could be physical, occupational or speech therapy and intensive rehabilitation services.

“The patient returning home is a success,” he added. “It’s a success if they come in on a stretcher and walk out 12 days later and go back and function in the community.”

Schaefer said HealthSouth now faces the challenge of publicizing its benefits to patients and physicians. 

“There are oncologists who can’t continue with patient treatments because if the patient is less than 50 percent active, there can be adverse effects,” he said. “In these instances, the physician would have to talk to the patient about palliative care or even hospice.

“We are another option where the patient can come in, get stronger and then continue with treatment,” he said. “Memorial and Penrose have great oncology programs and great outpatient programs. But there is an unmet need within the oncology world for those who are the sickest of the sick. They have gone through chemotherapy or radiation and won’t do well with outpatient visits.”

Schaefer said inpatient rehabilitation is not common, especially when it comes to oncology. With the Colorado Springs location online, there are only two facilities in the country practicing the model, and both are HealthSouth facilities.

“In terms of specialty hospitals, we would be on the forefront,” Schaefer said, adding the hospital is currently adding “complementary therapies,” which would incorporate massage, acupuncture, aroma therapies and meditation to the rehab. “We’re looking at the whole person and bringing those therapies together in one spot.”

Bigger and better

HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital is a publicly traded company with two Colorado locations, the other being in Littleton. The Colorado Springs location is licensed for 64 beds and fills about half of those, on average. In addition, the hospital does about 15 non-traditional outpatient therapy sessions a day, Schaefer said.

“The outpatient team also focuses on our specialty population,” Schaefer said. “We see patients with brain and spinal cord injuries, MS and stroke [patients]. We’ll get the occasional knee here and there, but everybody in town does those types of things.”

The Colorado Springs hospital employs 175, including 100 full-time employees.

“These aren’t low-paying jobs,” Schaefer said. “These are therapists and [registered nurses] making good salaries. Everybody talks about needing to bring jobs to the community. When I started in 2008, we had about 80 employees and eight patients in the hospital. We have built this business and its reputation. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we’re able to give back to the community.” 

Schaefer said practically the entire hospital has been renovated in the past five years.

“It was a poor man’s renovation. Every chance we get, we pick up a paintbrush and make this place look as good as it can,” he said. “We want our employees to be proud of the place they work and patients to be proud to come here too.”

Schaefer said the demographics of the community point to continued growth. 

“We have a lot of retirees here and our [patients] skew toward the elder,” he said. “I would like to add specialty programs yearly. There’s an underserved population for hip fractures. There are patients going to skilled nursing facilities but we could provide a great jumpstart for those patients.” 

Schaefer said he communicates daily with the community’s acute care hospitals, which face increasing pressure from insurers to get patients in and out in a timely manner.

“We could be a step-down program to help those hospitals,” he said. “We see a lot of opportunities.” nCSBJ