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In what may be one of the more novel expansion moves, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, GA, turned a 64,000-square-foot former grocery store building into a fitness center with full outpatient therapy services. A group of family practice physicians shares the building, using the space for both clinical practice and as a teaching facility for residents.
Some of the residents specialize in sports medicine or geriatric medicine and will shadow one of the hospital’s physical therapists for a couple of days a month while they are next door to the fitness center, says Sue Lanier Freeman, PT, manager of outpatient physical therapy for Phoebe Northwest.
The physical medicine side of the building has 31,000 square feet on two stories. The top floor contains the managers’ offices and a walking track that overlooks a solarium and main gym area for physical therapy and cardiac rehab. The lower level contains most of the patient care area. The sports medicine area, in the back of the building, has the more advanced equipment, including free weights, cardiovascular equipment, leg presses, hand-strength curls, and other weight machines. There also is a small whirlpool for therapy.
The hospital chose the location because it’s in the northwest area of Albany, closer to the heart of the hub area and the major mall. Previously, outpatient rehab services were situated on the sixth floor of the hospital, which proved a major problem for some patients. It was difficult for them to find parking, and they would have to allow 15 minutes from the time they arrived at the hospital to make their way to the sixth floor, Freeman says.
The expansion, which cost more than $1 million during the renovation several years ago, gave the rehab facility a great deal more space with room for top-of-the-line equipment, Freeman adds. "We have 10 exam rooms now whereas we had three before, and we have a lot more mobility," she says.
In addition to physical therapy, occupational therapy, cardiac rehab, speech therapy, and wellness services, the facility offers the services of two audiologists. There also are two physical therapists and two physical therapy assistants who are trained in neuro rehab, including stroke and traumatic brain injury. Another rehab program offered at the facility is a lymphedema program for women who have swelling caused by mastectomy.
"We do a lot of work with the spine, back, neck, and thoracic dysfunction," Freeman says. "One PT only sees spinal cord injury patients."
The facility’s wellness services include a staff member who holds wellness classes addressing such topics as weight loss, strength training, tai chi, and fibromyalgia wellness. At a cost to participants of only $15 for two to three sessions over a six-week period, the services are not profitable, Freeman says. "These are more of a community service, and the people are getting exposure to our facility and our staff, so if they end up needing therapy in the future, we’re the first ones they will think of," she explains.
The facility’s other community services include sponsoring an annual physical of all area junior high and high school athletes from both public and private schools. Hospital volunteers assist the rehab staff in assessing the more than 2,500 students’ weight, height, blood pressure, and flexibility. Between 15 and 20 orthopedists and general practitioners help provide the physicals. This free service is held on the third weekend of May. "It indirectly provides more referrals because if a family doesn’t already have a doctor, they’ll remember how they went to the Phoebe physical medicine facility," Freeman says.
Another annual event is a sports symposium in which area coaches are invited to listen to orthopedists and general practitioners speak about sports nutrition, injury prevention, and treatment after an injury on the field. "They talk about how to cut a helmet off without fracturing the athlete’s neck and how to immobilize a spine on a spine board," Freeman explains. "We also have about 10 PTs, OTs, and athletic trainers talk about rehab and what to do if you’ve had an ankle sprain."
The therapists give coaches examples of stretching techniques and a basic outline of what kinds of muscles need to be worked through various exercises. The all-day session typically draws more than 100 coaches. The facility provides lunch and usually has a celebrity keynote speaker, including sports figures and university coaches.
After each annual session, the rehab facility asks the coaches for feedback. "After the first year or two, they said we were too technical and had too much anatomy," says Freeman. "They wanted more practical advice about how to prevent injuries." In subsequent years, they made the sessions more practical. Sometimes the sessions also combine fun and games with education. One year, the coaches were invited to a golf tournament in which both doctors and coaches would play golf. "This is just a marketing tool," Freeman says. "It’s the way sports medicine works."
Another marketing tool, this one geared at senior citizens, is a health fair held for people ages 55 or older. The quarterly fairs include free screenings for posture, balance, test grip strength, and fall risk. Senior citizens who are part of the 55+ Golden Key Club also may walk on the facility’s indoor track between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The walkers are encouraged to ask the staff about any injuries or joint pain they may experience, and this can lead to a therapy referral. Typically, there are between 200 and 250 walkers per day on the track, Freeman says.
Before the hospital expanded into the former grocery store space, the rehab department was entirely dependent on physician referrals. Because of the large facility’s prominent public exposure, there are many self-referrals or referrals made by physicians whose patients specifically asked to be sent to the Phoebe Northwest facility.
"We’re no longer totally dependent on doctors," Freeman adds. "We still have a long way to go in marketing, but we’re trying."
• Sue Lanier Freeman, PT, Manager of Outpatient Physical Therapy, Phoebe Northwest, 2336 Dawson Road, Suite 1100, Albany, GA 31707. Telephone: (912) 312-8720.