The Acute Rehabilitation Unit at EAMC-Lanier in Valley, the first of its kind in the area, provides specialized rehabilitation for patients in the hospital who are not yet able to return to their homes.
The 17-bed unit includes private rooms overlooking the Chattahoochee River, a dining area, and a rehab gym where patients participate in a minimum of three hours of specialized rehab each day they are in the unit.
Greg Nichols, EAMC-Lanier administrator explained that this unit was opened in October based on the needs of the community.
“We, along with our administration in Opelika, chose to open an acute rehab unit because there is nothing like this available for the community and surrounding counties,” Nichols said.
“The nearest rehab facility before ours opened is in Phenix City—that’s a long drive for people who live in this area, and for their families and loved ones to visit them. Our unit is also convenient for patients who are in Opelika or LaGrange.”
Frederick Aziz, M.D. is a board-certified physiatrist and serves as the medical director of the unit. A physiatrist, or physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, treats a wide variety of medical conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
Dr. Aziz completed his residency in rehabilitation medicine in New York and his fellowship in polytrauma/brain injury at McGuire Hunter Holmes Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va.
“We are excited to have Dr. Aziz,” said Eve Milner, vice president of Clinical Services. “He brings a wealth of knowledge about acute rehab and will oversee the therapy of each patient, while also working with any other medical conditions they have.
"Since opening last October,' Milner continued, "we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. It’s very convenient for people in this area and we’ve even had many self-referrals, which is great because it illustrates how excited patients are that this service is now being offered.”
The rehab gym, located in close proximity to the unit, includes a fully functional kitchen, restroom with a bath tub, bedroom, washer and dryer.
“Part of rehabilitation is ensuring that each patient is capable of doing everything in their home that they were able and responsible for doing before they came to us,” Milner said.
“We want our patients to be able to attain their prior level of function before they were injured or hospitalized. The kitchen is also great because they get to cook things like muffins and cookies, and that’s very enjoyable for the patients.”
Dr. Aziz explained that his role as the physiatrist and medical director in the rehab unit involves a multi-faceted approach to improving function and quality of life for patients.
“Rehab medicine involves returning patients to their prior function,” Dr. Aziz said.
“While a physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist is administering specific types of therapy," Dr. Aziz added, "I am assessing patients overall and developing the best plan of care in order to accommodate for their specific medical conditions and allow them to rehab and heal as quickly as possible. I also work with social workers to ensure quality of life once the patient is discharged.
“One benefit of acute rehab is the stringent therapy schedule,” Dr. Aziz said. “During their stay in the unit, patients receive three or more hours of rehab every day. For patients who are not healed or ready to transition out of the hospital, this allows them to begin the healing process.
"Another great benefit of our program is that it is located within the hospital," Dr. Aziz said. "There is 24/7 rehab nursing care available, and there is always medical personnel and emergent care close by, which is a great comfort to patients and their families.”
Becky Sweezey is the program director and is also a physical therapist. She explains that while physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and nurses each have a different role within the unit, everyone works together to provide the patient with comprehensive rehabilitation.
“The rehab in our unit is a collaborative effort among all disciplines to improve a patient’s functional mobility and their ability to perform activities of daily living,” Sweezey explained.
“There’s not another setting where nursing staff is involved in the actual rehab of patients the same way they are in this unit. Everyone in our department functions as part of the team and that includes weekly team conferences for each patient’s individualized plan.
"Our goal," said Sweezey, "is always to help the patient return to their home environment and not to simply discharge the patient, but to also help set up a continuum of care for when they leave us.”
Keri Smith is an occupational therapist on site and she works with patients to simulate daily activities that they will need to accomplish when they are discharged from the hospital. This includes preparing meals, dressing and bathing. Each patient is different, but with all of the resources available in the rehab gym, the staff is able to customize therapy to meet their needs.
“We’re thrilled to provide this service to the community and surrounding counties,” said Cindy Daniel, director of Acute Rehab.
“Through this program, we have become a referral source for other hospitals for acute rehab and local physicians have recognized the value of this unit. This service provides a much-needed resource, and local patients no longer have to look outside of our county for treatment.
"Nurses who work here," Daniel said, "have expressed that it is exciting to see improvements that patients make during their stay here. Many patients who were nervous at first have made great improvement far beyond their expectations, and our rates of being able to discharge patients back to their home environment have been great.”