Rehabilitation Services at Aspen Valley Hospital have grown rapidly over the last several years, providing the community a level of service never before offered in this region.
Just in the last six years, the team has added therapists specializing in physical, occupational and speech therapy, growing from a handful of therapists to 28 on staff today. That includes 22 physical therapists, four occupational therapists and two speech therapists. A vestibular physical therapist is the newest addition to the staff.
“We’re really fortunate for the Hospital’s support, investing in the resources—the staffing and equipment—it takes to deliver the highest-quality rehabilitative care possible,” says Louie Carder, the director of rehabilitation services. “We serve residents and visitors in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, so we take extra pride in our ability to meet the specialized needs of our close-knit community, realizing our patients are also our friends and neighbors.”
It’s easy to see how the department is working today to meet the high expectations and diverse needs of the community. It has a coordinated Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) team, a pelvic health program and a therapist specializing in pediatrics. It offers a wide range of speech-language therapy services as well. A decade ago, there was only one occupational therapist at the Hospital. Now there are four full-time occupational therapists, two of whom are certified hand specialists.
The growth is also apparent at the Hospital campus and satellite offices where services are offered throughout the upper valley. The department now occupies most of the Hospital’s second floor in the building’s east wing, and services are offered at various offsites including downtown Aspen, Snowmass Clinic, Snowmass Club and in Basalt at the After-Hours Medical Care clinic location, all part of an initiative to improve access for patients.
At the Hospital, rehab services occupies an area that is shaped like a giant letter U, with two hallways running parallel on either side of a wide center section to an open room complete with stunning views of Red Mountain and McClain Flats. It’s the best view in the house. In the center section are rooms designated for specific treatment needs — speech therapy, hand therapy and aquatic therapy.
The department is well equipped with a combination of the latest technologies and some very familiar “old school” equipment. They include:
- Treadmills to assess gait and running, including an anti-gravity treadmill (Alter-G Body Weight Support Treadmill) for people with lower extremity injuries who need to reduce the weight on their injured leg or foot.
- A squat rack like you might find in a gym, a Pilates machine, dumbbell weights and a rack with tubes hanging from above to help build arm strength.
- Low platforms that give therapists the room needed to work with patients in all positions.
- A current pool and two smaller tubs to treat specific types of injuries, located in the aquatic therapy room.
“We need a big open space where we can fit our equipment and have to room to work on the functional activities that people need for their daily lives,” Carder says. “Our space is organized to maximize its utility.”
A neuro therapy room located down the hall from the rest of the rehab department provides a quiet place for people recovering from brain injuries. The shades can be drawn and the room is home to the Bioness Integrated Therapy System (BITS) machine, which looks like a large TV. It actually gives therapists and patients the tests and tools needed to establish baselines in balance, vision and cognitive capabilities. And on the first floor there is a pediatric therapy room, which gives children and their therapists a space of their own to work.
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A Team Approach
As Rehabilitation Services have grown at Aspen Valley Hospital, so have the number of patients and complexity of physical, speech and cognitive challenges that need to be treated.
People often require assistance in multiple areas from different types of therapists. Occupational therapists help patients perform the tasks they need to get through the day, specifically focusing on the upper body. Physical therapists help them regain strength, flexibility and coordination. The department’s vestibular therapist helps people with balance, vertigo and other symptoms of a cognitive injury. The speech therapists also work with people who have suffered a brain injury, such as a concussion, as well as those who have trouble swallowing their food after chemo therapy or certain surgeries. When a patient comes in with a head injury, therapists from all three specialties team up to analyze the patient and develop a treatment plan.
“We have a very collaborative team, and any time we see a new patient we coordinate between physical therapy and occupational therapy. If a patient shows signs of speech or vestibular therapy needs, those therapists are looped in as well,” says Carder.
The team works hard to ensure each patient is getting the treatment they need without duplication. That may entail in-person meetings to discuss a patient, or an email to the other therapists outlining the treatment plan and progress. “The point,” Carder says, “is to maximize our ability to get our patients back to the life activities they need and enjoy.”
Rehabilitation Services at the Hospital have grown at a time when the profession has been changing, too. In addition to expanded collaboration between departments, the team works hard to stay up-to-date on the latest evidence-based practices in physical therapy.
“We meet regularly, we have monthly journal clubs to review literature, we have in-service trainings,” Carder explains. “This is all part of our continuing education and dedication to providing the latest treatments.”
For instance, the Traumatic Brain Injury team, comprised of all three treatment areas — physical, occupational and speech — meets monthly to discuss the latest techniques and adjust their treatment practices as warranted.
Another big change that’s impacted patient care in recent years is access. Previously, patients needed a physician referral to see a physical therapist. That’s changed in the majority of states across the country, including Colorado, so now a patient can simply show up on their own to seek treatment.
“A patient can call us and schedule appointment,” Carder explains. “It’s called direct access. We’ll call their insurance company to understand their benefits, and let the patient know if there are any problems. It’s a big change that has improved access and outcomes for a lot of people.”
Staying Active Longer
Overall, Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley have a very healthy population, from young to old. That is reflected in the geriatric population, which often requires the same types of rehabilitation services as younger adults and children who are injured while skiing, mountain biking or simply from an unfortunate incident, like a slip on the ice.
“One difference is that as people get older, it takes longer to heal, and once they do heal it takes more effort to remain injury free from the activities that they do on a daily basis,” Carder says. “For older people who do get injured, we’re able to help lead them in their recovery phase so they can get back to doing what they love, hopefully in a quicker timeframe.”
If you would like to schedule an appointment or talk to someone at Rehabilitation Services, call 970.544.1177. A doctor’s referral is not necessary.
Click to learn more about Rehabilitation Services at Aspen Valley Hospital.