Senior News: Home health rehabilitation services assist the community

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Donna, at 85 years and physically active, made the difficult decision to have her hip replaced. After her surgery, hospitalization and prior to release from the rehab unit, the hospital social worker arranged for Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, a local nonprofit home health agency, to bring in a therapist and home health aide during the recovery period. Donna followed the instructions of her physical therapist and, within two months, she was well on her way to resuming her independent lifestyle. Today, she walks without the pain she had prior to the hip replacement.

When Sarah, 80, fell three times in one week, her daughter Susan grew increasingly concerned; she knew that if this situation continued, Sarah would end up with a fracture. Susan called HHCJ Home Health Care at 463-6111 for help. HHCJ staff contacted Sarah's doctor and made arrangements for their physical therapist to come into the home and assess her situation. After some minor home modifications, selection of the proper cane and instructions for using it, and lessons on exercises to improve balance, Sarah was able to maintain her independent living more safely.

Occupational, physical and speech therapies are available in the home through HHCJ Home Health, complementing their skilled nursing and personal care services regularly associated with home health. Danae Hays, physical therapist for HHCJ, coordinates the agency's rehabilitation and therapy services.

"If we see other needs, we can refer them to other programs under the CCS umbrella, such as Meals On Wheels, the Bridge Adult Day Program and Care-A-Van," Hays said.

"We work especially closely with Care Coordination, because they are right across the hall."

In addition to people who have had hip fractures or hip replacements, HHCJ therapists regularly see people who are recovering from surgery, strokes and infections or suffering from breathing or heart conditions. In fact, anyone who has had an extended hospital stay for any reason may benefit from home health therapy services.

"Extended hospitalization can leave someone so weak they need therapy to get back on their feet."

Hays said, "We try to work closely with the hospital staff who are discharging the patient, making that transition home much safer."

Occupational therapist Jo Boehme assesses the home environment, recommends home modifications (such as grab-bar placements), teaches people how to dress themselves without injury and use adaptive equipment, and gives them special exercises, even methods for conserving personal energy. Speech Therapist Kim Blair assists patients with swallowing and speaking difficulties, making food texture recommendations and teaching them to communicate either verbally or with the aid of special machines. Physical therapists focus on building the patient's endurance and strength and educating family caregivers on the proper way to move the patient.

Physical therapists work closely with nurses and doctors, keeping an eye on incisions, swelling, wounds, skin and digestive health and communication progress and concerns. Home Health therapists regularly visit with the patients and are able to report back to the doctor with such things as safety concerns or poor responses to new medications.

"When you're in a person's home, you get a far better picture of someone's abilities and disabilities," Hays said.

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