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Occupational Therapist Cynthia Hembree (left) and Physical Therapist Pam Breault-Simpson  care for patients in the comfort of their own homes. (COURTESY PHOTO)

CONWAY — When the average person thinks of physical therapy, they likely picture it taking place in an outpatient practice in a gym-like setting. But Visiting Nurse Home Care and Hospital of Carroll County wants to build awareness that rehabilitative services like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy can take place from the comfort of home.

In fact, most of their staff therapists say that it’s their preferred place to provide care due to its effectiveness and positive outcomes for their clients.

Rehab therapists are known for their patience, understanding, humor, and a thorough knowledge of the muscles of the human body. They spend their days helping improve other people’s lives.  Every day, they provide help and hope to all ages and all manner of injury. From musculoskeletal issues, to joint pain, and stroke — they’re the cheerleaders for recovery.  

Just ask VNHCH physical therapist Pam Breault-Simpson. When she first meets with clients in their homes, she likes to find out what their goals are and then together work towards them. She said, “Some just want to play golf again. Some want to go shopping. Others want to lift up their grandchildren. It depends on their lifestyle before, if they were sedentary versus sports-oriented, going out hiking, biking and skiing. I have to tailor my approach to their prior level of function and what their goals are.”

Breault-Simpson loves working with people in their own homes, tackling the challenges they might face after coming home after surgery, hospitalization, illness or injury.

Her favorite part of the job? Seeing them regain their independence, allowing them to live independently once again. She said,  “Depending on their disability, whether it’s surgery from a fracture or a hip replacement, it’s about walking independently, weaning them off walkers to crutches to canes, then walking by themselves. We tackle stairs, and work together to figure out how to get in and out of the house. If a bedroom or bathroom are upstairs, we work on how to get them there. These are the challenges I face every day.”

Therapists also act as a liaison between the doctor’s office and the home. “If we have concerns, we are a voice for the patient and advocate for them.”

In-home physical therapists don’t just work hands-on with patients, they work on their home environment itself. Keeping clients safe from falling is a key objective.  “We help them set up their home, working with occupational therapists. We make sure they have grab bars, a railing on stairs, bed rails, anything that will keep them from further injuries and going back into the hospital.”

Working as a team is part of what makes rehabilitative services in the home work so well. Breault-Simpson works with her teammates from VNHCH, such as occupational therapists, speech therapists and other physical therapists. Communication is critical.

“We have PT huddles and get together and discuss patients. Mostly we communicate through calls, or see each other in the office. Sometimes we’ll meet together at the patient’s home with occupational therapy.”

Working in homes is different than in an in-patient setting, like a hospital. There is the special aspect of working in the patients’ homes, and doing training with the families who help follow through with the exercises.  Breault-Simpson explained “If they are allowing you into your home, they want you there, they are motivated and they want your help. You don’t get resistance like you might get at a hospital, where they are being encouraged to do therapy but might not be motivated in that setting. You can improve the quality of life, and people are appreciative. It’s a very rewarding profession. You work with someone who can’t even get out of bed, and when you’re done with them, and you see them off walking, running into them in the grocery store. Physical therapists make a difference in their lives.”

Occupational therapist Cynthia Hembree agrees that helping people is what drew her to her profession in rehabilitative services. She said, “OT is unique because it looks at the holistic person. We look at their physical needs but also emotional and mental needs. And the goal of OT is to improve their everyday well being. I enjoy having them look beyond their disability and making the most of it. I want to help them live well.”

She shared Breault-Simpson’s enjoyment of working with patients in the home. Having worked in a variety of environments, including acute rehab, outpatient care and at Memorial Hospital in in-patient rehabilitative services, she prefers working in home care.

“I love having the privilege to go into someone’s home. OT is maintaining ability to function. What’s better than being at their home,” she said.

Hambree shared the story of a patient she cared for earlier this year. She had OT, PT and speech therapy. “She was pretty bad off and returned home from the hospital. We really had to work with her to maintain safety in her home and adapt her home environment to make sure she was safe and could function in the bathroom and the kitchen, even at her computer. We helped her learn how to bathe safely, and dress herself while maintaining back precautions. We modified her environment to suit her needs there. PT helped work with her on being able to get in and out of her house and worked on her ability to ambulate with her walker and home. Speech therapy helped her organize and manage meds and not get overwhelmed. Eventually, she was getting out of her house so she was no longer homebound. The goal all along was to graduate her to outpatient care. We helped her regain her ability to live.”

A busy mother of three who also cares for her elderly parents, Hembree loves the flexibility of her schedule. “Visiting Nurses is a great non-profit organization that is so supportive to the patient. It’s patient-centered and we do everything we possibly can to support them and let them thrive in their home, offering them rehab but also nursing, behavioral health and social services. I’ve always been so impressed with them. It’s all about the client and how we can better their lives. ”

For more information, call Visiting Nurse Homecare and Hospital of Carroll County at (603) 356-7006 or go to vnhch.org.

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