St. Agnes patients get real-life rehabilitation

Independence: Patients disabled by illness or injury re-learn daily living at hospital's model community.

April 22, 2003|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Patricia Litchfield put off knee replacement surgery for years because she feared she would lose her independence.

"I heard so many stories about people who couldn't bend down after surgery," said Litchfield, 72. "I couldn't see how I would be able to live without doing my household chores."

The retired school worker's concerns were eased last week when she finally had knee surgery at St. Agnes HealthCare and began physical therapy at its new Independence Square rehabilitation community - the first of its kind in Maryland.

The 4,800-square-foot rehab facility at the hospital allows patients to re-learn, in a real-life setting, routine activities they may no longer be able to perform after suffering a catastrophic accident or illness such as a stroke, or having joint replacement.

It features a mock apartment complete with bathroom, kitchen and bedroom where patients can practice getting in and out of the bed or bathtub. There is also a simulated bank with an ATM, a car, bus and grocery store. Patients can also practice walking through a crosswalk with functioning crossing signs.

"This gives us a lot more ability to make the therapy meaningful," said Carolyn Moore, director of rehabilitation services.

It's also a wise investment for the hospital, said Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management.

With the growing number of workers' compensation cases, a rising share of the population that is older and an increase in sports injuries, physical therapy can be profitable for a hospital. Having a home setting in the hospital, Anderson said, cuts back on the cost of having to send therapists to people's houses.

"You build one model home instead of building each one uniquely," he said. "Rehab pays well in most places."

But with hospital costs escalating, St. Agnes officials also said it's a luxury for a hospital to be able to build a rehab center as it did. They were able to cut what might have been an $850,000 project to $450,000 through sponsorships by local businesses and in-house work.

"If you try to go it alone, the return on the investment would take a long, long time," said Ron Schack, a board member who had the idea for St. Agnes' Independence Square.


Varsity Auto donated the royal blue Saturn; the Maryland Transit Administration donated a bus seat; and some hospital board members brought street signs bearing their names for $5,000 a piece.

Owings Mills-based Bath Fitter donated about $12,000 in labor and bathroom and kitchen fixtures. Andrew Snyder, the company's president and founder, has an older brother who suffered a stroke in 1999.

"Having been that close to rehab, I thought it was a great idea," Snyder said yesterday. "I think that it sure is an easier way to make the transition. Rehab is like re-learning all these little things that we take for granted."

St. Agnes officials call the rehab facility a good investment, but say they're most excited about helping patients like Litchfield.

Friday, Litchfield walked cautiously across the street at Independence Square, trying her new knee out. It was a little sore, she said. As her therapy progresses, she'll practice climbing in and out of the Saturn and stepping on and off street curbs.

A short time later, Brenda Hospelhorn, who had part of her colon removed, climbed the steps of the porch and practiced walking through the screen door. The therapist then asked her if she was ready to get into the car.

"Oh, no, I'm not ready for that," she said.

Grand opening today

The center, which will have its official grand opening today, began seeing hospital patients in March and will soon begin seeing outpatient clients as well.

Developers maintained a portion of the traditional physical therapy setting such as parallel bars and hospital beds, but the real-life setting is what makes the difference.

"Using the ATM machine and getting out of the car - when you're injured that becomes difficult," Schack said. "Practicing on a real machine is so much better than the treadmill."

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