As COVID-19 Patients Recover, Rehab Hospitals Play Important Role

While an acute care hospital’s goal is to save a life, the goal of a rehab hospital is to give that COVID-19 patient back their quality of life.

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They’re considered the next step in the recovery from the coronavirus.  Connecticut rehab hospitals are now seeing a surge of patients, but only two are taking on COVID-19 positive patients.

“The patients I’ve been seeing, they’re overall very weak.  The average person has spent a month in bed not moving, not doing any sort of mobility and it really takes a toll on the body,” said Lexie Waller, an occupational therapist at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford.

From re-learning to walk and talk, to just getting out of bed the needs of the patients arriving Gaylord Hospital are not unlike those of Waller’s other patients, but now those in charge of their care must arm themselves, by dressing in personal protective gear from head to toe.

“We’re mobilizing patients, we’re getting them up and moving so just getting used to having all that equipment on and also helping a patient to get up and get out of bed,” said CJ Sabith, a physical therapist at the hospital.

The hospital’s vice president said it increased its capacity to 130 beds and still has 38 people on its waiting list.

“It’s a staffing nightmare to begin with.  Obviously, everyone in health care is somewhat anxious about this disease and what we know and what we don’t know about it,” said Dr. Steve Holland, Gaylord’s vice president and chief medical officer.

“The level of sustained occupancy and demand for beds is quite significant at this time,” said Lynn Ricci, the president and CEO of Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.  “This was nothing any of us have any planned for, have ever treated before.”

Hospital for Special Care says it has a room with 10 beds specifically designed for COVID-19 positive patients.  Ricci said there are 18 more patients on its waiting list.

Dr. Brenda Nurse, the chief of infectious diseases at the Hospital for Special Care, said staff there are trying to take every precaution for its fragile patient population. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this.  It is every day I come in, I’m answering questions for things I’ve never really thought about before or thought I’d have to think about,” said Nurse.

Despite the precautions hospitals are taking, there are still unknowns.

“There was definitely some anxiety,” said Waller of the first time she treated a COVID-19 patient. “It’s nerve-wracking.  I’ve never done that before.  I’ve been in patients’ rooms that were on airborne precautions before but this is definitely different.”

The statewide no visitor policy affects all patients being treated at rehab facilities, not just the COVID-19 positive ones, which makes the job of those who do interact with the patients all the more important.

“Being able to be one of those people that gets them a glass of water or gets to hold their hand or help them sit up for wash their face for the first time, it’s a really cool experience to be able to be a part of that,” said Waller.

Ultimately, the goal is to get the patients to the point that they can live independently again. 

Wednesday, Hospital for Special Care’s first COVID-19 patient went home.  The hospital’s staff lined two floors and waved and cheered as he left.

“It was like sending off somebody to college or to a wedding.  It was just an incredible milestone,” said Ricci.

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