Therapy students gain experience with senior citizens

by Mickie Barg

For residents of a local health care center, today’s open house is more than coffee and cookies.
It represents a positive change in the level of personal therapeutic care now provided by the University physicians.
The University Good Samaritan Center hosts an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. today to let the University’s physical therapy department show how that change is affecting lives.
The new program consists of 90 first-year graduate students spending three days a week at the center applying physical, occupational and speech therapy to its residents. The students, professional clinicians and the facility’s fitness center staff members have devised a customized program that meets each patient’s needs.
“It is a marriage of education and a clinical setting,” said Kirsten Ness, assistant professor and academic coordinator of clinical education.
Nordrum said the University — known for its quality care, research and support in the community — is offering a unique learning opportunity. The physical therapy program comprises professionals and students to offer direct rehabilitation in a nursing-home setting.
“The program was two years in the planning,” said Jon Nordrum, director of clinical services for the University physicians. “It is a new venture in long-term care.”
“We didn’t need any special funding because the program will pay for itself,” he said. “There is no incremental cost because the equipment is facility-owned.”
Nordrum said most long-term care facility’s therapy services are contracted out, resulting in high costs and poor services. They charge by the minute and take away value-added services. Most nursing homes don’t have in-house services because it is too expensive. With the new service, the facility has control and quality care at a reasonable price.
“The facility pays a flat rate to us, and then they bill third-party providers,” Nordrum said.
Todd Hodgin, director of the Good Samaritan’s fitness center, said the residents are happy with the therapy provided and with the different philosophy.
“They take time with the patients and use interdisciplinary approaches, bringing a team feeling,” he said. “Previously, therapists were only there when there was billable work to be done.”
The facility’s residents need attention for various ills — brain injury, stroke, joint rehabilitation, wound care, geriatric care, Alzheimer’s, post-surgical short-term and long-term care. As a result, students receive experience in a wide range of therapeutic needs.
Ness said residents love the students and look forward to the days when they come, not only because they get therapy but also for the human interaction. She said the experience gives students a more realistic view of what it is like to work in the field right away rather than the artificial view from a classroom.
“One of our students said that after one semester going to the nursing home, she discovered that she didn’t just learn about physical therapy but learned to understand how the patient felt not being able to walk,” Ness said.

Mickie Barg welcomes comments at [email protected]