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Rehabilitation Medicine Aims to Get Patients Home, Restore Independence

The standard image of the physical rehabilitation process frequently involves a solitary individual, face contorted with effort, straining against exercise equipment or toiling up a hill. The implication is rehab is a lonely task that sets an individual's will against his or her debilitated body.

The truth, however, is rehabilitation is a team effort, as evidenced by the Rehabilitation Medicine Unit at University of Colorado Hospital. It draws on a remarkably diverse set of provider skills to help patients regain all or at least some of the independence lost to injury, surgery or disease.

A diverse team's array of skills

Patients benefit from the services of physical, occupational and speech therapists, as well as physicians trained in rehabilitation medicine (physiatrists), clinical nurse specialists, licensed practical nurses, recreational therapists, rehabilitation psychologists, dietitians, pharmacists and social workers. An admissions coordinator helps steer patients toward the specific mix of services they require.

 "We're a bridge between the hospital and the patient going home," says the unit's nurse manager, Jan Hagman, RN, MS. "Our goal is to help patients regain their independence."

Not your everyday unit


Some of the members of Rehabilitation Medicine gather in the unit's
gym. The team draws on a remarkably diverse set of provider
skills to help patients regain their independence.

The unit occupies a unique niche in the hospital: it is a separately licensed facility with its own criteria for admission and reimbursement.

"We're not an inpatient unit in the sense of being another hospital floor," Hagman notes. "Our patients are discharged from the hospital, and then readmitted to our unit." Most referrals are in-house, she adds, and come primarily from the Burn, Neurology, Orthopaedics and Transplant units.

"We're one of the only facilities in the region that deals with rehabilitation for burn patients," Hagman says.

Patients regain daily living skills

Patients rehabilitate on equipment in a large gym on the unit and in a multipurpose room devoted to helping them regain skills in the activities of daily living, such as getting in and out of the bathtub, getting up and down from a standard toilet and dressing in everyday clothing.

"We have patients stick to a daily routine," notes Dave Wegzyn, MPT, supervisor of Inpatient Physical Therapy. "We want them to work like they would in a regular day."

As patients progress, they may move to the hospital's outpatient physical therapy facilities at Park Meadows, Stapleton and Boulder clinics and the Colorado Center.

This page is adapted from a story that appeared in the UCH Insider, the hospital's candid e-newsletter. The Insider, which is published biweekly, is available to people outside the hospital via a free e-mail subscription. Tyler Smith ( is managing editor of the Insider.