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Spaulding Rehabilitation Adjusting to COVID Restrictions


Most hospitals around the state stopped elective surgeries and other procedures weeks ago as part of the protocol to stem the coronavirus spread.

Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Sandwich has also had to change the way it accepts and treats patients who need physical therapy, and is now accepting other patients with non-COVID illnesses who need a hospital bed in which to recover.

WCAI's Morning Edition Host Kathryn Eident talked with Spaulding Physical Therapist Stephen Katzenback to learn more.

Eident How has Spaulding been able to cope and provide care to patients who still need rehab?

Katzenback Early on, we really had to ramp down our outpatient services to the point where currently we're only seeing folks where it's an emergency that they need to be seen on an outpatient basis, whether they're recovering from a surgery that needs specific rehab requirements.

But besides that, what we've had to do is kind of redeploy those folks in other capacities. Some of those therapists are helping us on the inpatient side. Some are being repurposed to do housekeeping jobs or provide rehab aide services, helping patients do just activities of daily living. We've had to rely on technology this time to provide that face-to-face with families, not only for the social chitchat, but also for family training. We have to train families oftentimes with special techniques or guarding to help the home discharge be safer.

Eident I was going to ask if that kind of technology or telemedicine was even possible, given that physical therapy is often hands on.

Katzenback It's really hard on the inpatient side. I'm, like you said, up and personal with a lot of my patients. A couple of weeks ago, the transition from only staff wearing masks, to now everyone wears masks. So, you know, if I'm doing my therapy session with my patient, both of us are wearing a mask to protect each other from whatever there could be. I told one patient, we're keeping her as safe as she can be here. She's having minimal interaction with the outside world right now. Because they're scared. They're sitting in their bedrooms watching television or listening to the rumors. We have to provide them with a little bit of comfort and reassurance that their well-being is just as important as ours.

Eident Is the hospital accepting and discharging patients?

Katzenback We've been able to offer Cape Cod Healthcare specifically, the ability to transfer patients from Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital to us as a med surge patient. So, those patients who aren't quite ready to go home, whether they've just had surgery or they're getting over an illness, and these patients would normally hang out in one of those acute care hospitals, we've now been able to transition that we can accept those patients and provide that nursing care or that physician oversight to transition them to home.

We are not currently admitting patients who are specifically COVID positive. If our patients come here and we've tested them and that they've developed that as a subsequent issue, obviously, well, we will do whatever we have to do for them.

You know, in one of our things that we really tried to focus on is, you know, I mean, in the media, you hear a lot of inequality in care, whether it be racial or socio-economic. And the folks that we see, you know, the quality of care really depends on what their disability may be. So, we want to make sure that we support the community who has a disability and make sure that they're not forgotten and they're supported in the ways that they need to be supported. We're offering online fitness classes through our adaptive sports program. We're doing fitness analysis. We have a foot hockey program for those kind of guys or we do a lot of golfing. So we're providing them some kind of outlet to do some fitness to get prepared for the season.

Eident And, how are you and your colleagues doing? This takes a toll as well on your side as caregivers.

Katzenback I think the major take-home is that it's fatiguing. I go home at the end of the day, and I say to my wife and my family, how tired I am. And it's not that I'm physically tired; I'm still doing the same amount of work that I always have done. But it is it's mentally tired. I worry that I might be coming in contact with someone who is ill here at the hospital and I'm taking it home to my family. I have two little girls at home as well as my wife. And I have been being a dad from a appropriate social distance, which is tough.

Eident Oh, it's got to be so hard not to give your kids hugs right now if you're staying away from them. What kinds of things are you doing at home to social distance?

Katzenback Yeah. So, I'm fortunate enough to have a space in my home where I can pretty much be separate. Me and my dog. So, I come home, I take off all the clothes that I've worn in the household in my shoes. I then shower and keep those clothes separate before so they can be laundered. I do obviously keep 6 to 10 feet away from my family. So yeah, it's a different approach and I have to be mindful of it. I've explained it to my kids. My daughters are eight and almost 10 and they kinda get it. They know that, you know, Dad's at work and Dad's helping people and those people might be sick. So they know that I'm not just a cruel dad.

Eident Yeah. And that hug when you finally give it will be so meaningful. Steve, thanks so much for taking a few minutes to talk about what's happening at your medical facility.

Katzenback Well, I just want to thank the community as a whole. You know, there's been that outpouring of support for first responders and essential employees and healthcare workers. You know, it really does help as you're driving home and, you know, you see a sign on the side of the road in front of a home that says, thank you. Those thank yous really go a long way. We really do appreciate that.

Eident Steve, thanks again for talking with us and for your work.

Katzenback You're welcome. Hope you have a great day. Stay safe. And we'll get through this together.

Eident That's Steve Katzenbach, a physical therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Sandwich.


This piece has been edited lightly for clarity. 

Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.