PULSE: Function and form

By Laura Raines, Pulse editor

Hospital renovations often start with drawings in an architect’s office. But the new rehab-ready stroke unit at Walton Rehabilitation Health System in Augusta also came from the hearts and minds of nurses and therapists who were trying improve care for stroke patients.

“The face of the rehab patient has changed,” said Karen Lasher, RN, BSN, MS, CRRN, patient care administrator.

Because of changes in health care delivery, patients who survive debilitating strokes are discharged from acute care hospitals much sooner than in the past.

walton rehab room

Because tools like ambulation bars are available right in the room, families are able to practice exercises with their loved one on their own. Photo by DANIELLE SEWARD, Special for the AJC.

“We’re getting rehab patients four days after they’ve had a serious stroke,” Lasher said. “They have greater medical needs. Their blood pressure may still be fluctuating, for instance.

“These patients don’t have the stamina to go down to our gym for therapy. We wanted to do something to help them.”

With a renovation at Walton Rehab already in the works, nurses, therapists and other caregivers joined forces to design rooms that cater to the needs of stroke patients.

“It was definitely a team effort with everybody sitting around the table — a brainstorming session among all the people who work with these patients,” Lasher said. “The idea of a rehab-ready room was very new to us, and we believe it’s a first for our region.”

The 18 rooms in the new stroke recovery unit are private and spacious.

“When patients were in semiprivate rooms, they weren’t as comfortable,” said Linda N. Johnson, OTR-L, ATP. “The new rooms are lovely and they afford patients and their families more privacy, and a quieter, more homelike environment.”

Ten similar rooms in a general unit serve patients with spinal cord and other injuries. The blue, green and cream color scheme creates a soothing ambience and windows with wood blinds open to a pleasant view. Each room has a climate control unit and is equipped with a sleep chair that allows a family member to spend the night.

“From the staff’s perspective, the room is large enough and has equipment built-in, so we can do therapy with our patients,” Johnson said. “Family members can observe, so they can help their patient practice later.”

The rooms are equipped with ambulation bars and large mirrors for physical therapy.

“Therapists use the bars to help patients with balance and walking. The mirrors allow patients to see the placement of their feet, which grounds them,” Lasher said. “The goal is to help them become as independent as possible.”

Occupational therapists find it easier to reteach patients how to groom themselves and to perform other everyday tasks because the rooms’ sinks are wheelchair-accessible.

“The soap and paper towel dispenser can be moved to either side of the sink, depending on which side of the patient the stroke affected,” Lasher said.

The toilets have grab bars and the bathrooms are roomy enough to allow staff members or family to help patients. The large showers are wheelchair- and stretcher-accessible and break away in case of an emergency.

“The staff really appreciates the lifts built into the ceiling that help us move patients from the bed to [a] wheelchair or from the chair to a standing position,” Johnson said. “It’s much easier to do therapy when don’t have to bring that kind of equipment into the room.”

Patients generally stay two to four weeks at Walton Rehab, spending much of that time in the gym working with therapists.

“Being with other patients helps them reintegrate into society, so therapists will get them to the gym as soon as possible,” Lasher said. “But having rehab-ready rooms gives patients a softer transition, initially. It’s better for them and for the clinicians taking care of them.”

Feedback from patients and families has been postive.

“A nurse told me that the reaction of one patient was, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ That made me want to cry, because the whole idea was to make life better for patients and their caregivers,” Lasher said.

Johnson said that while the rooms foster better physical care, they also make an emotional impact.

“Patients can be depressed because of their conditions, but when they have a beautiful place to work at getting better, a place where they aren’t encroaching on anyone else’s space… just a little thing like that can make them smile,” she said. “That’s what rehab is all about — helping them get better.”

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