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Hospital boasts inpatient rehab center

By Laura McMillan

James Wood was weak after his lumbar surgery, but luckily for him, he did not have to travel very far from the Southern Regional surgical unit to gather his strength.

On June 15, only five days after being admitted to the hospital for surgery, the 78 year-old Lake City resident entered the Southern Regional Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit to undergo three hours of physical therapy per day. "It's exhausting," Wood said, "but if it is what I have to do to get better, I'll do it."

The unit Dr. Terrence Foster heads at Southern Regional Medical Center focuses on practical rehabilitation for its patients who come in after strokes, muscular diseases, joint replacements, surgeries, and long hospitalizations. "What we try to do is optimize that part of their body that is well," Foster said, describing a stroke victim who lost use of his right arm, but realized, through intense rehabilitation, that he could use the limb to aid in the daily movements of other, stronger body parts.

Southern Regional Medical Center hosted an open house recently celebrating the opening of its newly completed full capacity rehabilitation center, now with 20 beds available.

What Dr. Foster, the hospital's CEO, project directors, and employees celebrated was the opportunity to help more patients like James Wood and the stroke victim re-learn how to live in spite of their physical loss.

Having a four bed unit when it opened last July as opposed to a full capacity center was all part of the plan according to Southern Regional Managing Director, Jack Wooten. "From a strategic standpoint, it allowed us to open a year earlier," Wooten said.

"It has been a gradual progression. It allowed us to get our processes in place," Clinical Director, Tanya Phillips said of the waiting period before the unit reached full capacity.

The process is still not entirely complete according to Wooten. All 20 beds will not be in use for months. During and immediately following the rehabilitation center's open house, 12 of the 20 beds were made available for patients.

Phillips said that the staff, which has grown in number from approximately 15 to 30 nurses, doctors and therapists, is "ready and waiting" for the influx of new patients.

"We've kept our four bed unit full. We'll be able to keep the 12 beds full," said Wooten. Wooten said that seven patients were being treated in the unit at the time the first open house, to which hospital officials and staff directly involved with the rehabilitation center were invited.

Two more open houses will follow, with one on Thursday allowing the general hospital population to view the new addition. "Our third, which is being planned right now, is more of a community open house," said Wooten.

The completed rehab unit still provides the same physical, occupational, and speech therapy it has since last summer.

"Each patient is assessed, and a care plan is created and individualized," Phillips explained. James Wood explained his simple goal in rehab: "I wanted them to get me back on the right road to recovery."

Dr. Foster and the medical staff of the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit review applications to the unit as a first step. Acceptance to the unit requires an interdisciplinary treatment need, meaning that the patient must need therapy in at least two areas, Phillips said.

Patients in the unit undergo three hours of rehabilitation per day that can be divided among any or all of the disciplines, said Phillips. According to Dr. Foster, that amount of time is what differentiates the Southern Regional Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit from sub-acute or outpatient rehabilitation programs. "We're much more intense. We're much more focused on short term rehab," Foster said.

The average stay in the unit is about 14 days. Scheduled to leave after only 10 days, James Wood is an example of how quickly the rehab unit does its job. "I think it's a deal where it gets better and better every day," said Wood. During that one-to-two-week-period patients use weights, mat tables, and parallel bars at the discretion of physical therapists like Jodi Baker.

"This is a lot more functionally focused. What do they need to go home? They need to get out of bed," Baker said, describing the benefit of a focused, individualized rehabilitation program.

"Different people take me and walk me around," James Wood explained his daily rehab process involving weights and simple exercises. Wood said he sees a doctor almost every day. "They tell me to do what the therapists say to do," he said.

Wood took the doctor's advice, and did everything the therapists asked of him in spite of the fact that he says the exercises hurt.

Wood, the exemplary patient, said, "I want to do my best to get better." That willingness to recover is one factor Dr. Foster and his staff must asses when accepting applications to the unit.

In addition to bars and mats on which patients may work toward their physical goals, there is also what is called an ADL Suite available as another example of the program's functionality. "We're simulating a home setting," said Phillips of the ADL Suite. "It's important they be able to function in a home setting."

Over the past year, the intense program of the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit has been preparing patients four at a time for their return to normalcy. Now, Edward Bonn, the CEO of Southern Regional, was able to say proudly of his hospital's 20 bed unit, "We are happy to be serving the community. We are happy to be fully operational."