Not long after Lewis County Hospital District No. 1 built the new Morton Hospital facility in 2006, they hired the, then, lone physical therapist for the department of one. After a time, she hired a physical therapist assistant and it kept growing from there.

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The Rehabilitation Services Clinic offers a wide variety of therapy services. Photo courtesy: Arbor Health

The real boom took place in 2010 when the hospital built an addition to greatly expand the rehabilitation services space. The new wing took the program from a 450-square foot single room to an approximately 3,000-square foot department that includes a gym, an occupational therapy kitchen, multiple patient treatment rooms, an eight-person warm-water therapy pool, a private massage therapy room and a private speech therapy office. In fact, the patient demand for rehabilitation services grew faster than employees could be recruited to fill the positions.

Staffing the department with physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists has been a real challenge. Unable to fill the needed positions as the patient-demand grew, the hospital had to utilize third-party contractors to provide traveling therapists, which is at a much higher cost than employing the staff themselves.

“It was around 2012-2013 that our first traveler arrived,” says Rehabilitation Services Director Edwin Meelhuysen. “We have since had, to our best count, travelers including 16 physical therapists, three speech therapists, two occupational therapists and one manager. There were some brief times where we were without travelers but for the most part, they have been a part of our team.”

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Pictured are (back row, from left) Karli Devoe, MS OTR/L; Bryan Gettys, PT DPT; Valerie Hoffman, Office/ Scheduling; Lisa Backlund, Scheduling; Mikaela Flowers, PT, DPT; Karma Gacke, Activities Coordinator. (Front row, from left) Debi Cole, PTA; Jayme Gawlik, Lead-Tech; Amy Ballard, PT DPT; Edwin Meelhuysen, PT, Director; Sami Vertz, LMT; Christina Foxley, MA, CCC-SLP; Chana Albracht PT, MPT. Photo courtesy: Arbor Health

Meelhuysen was recently pleased to announce that the department was finally fully staffed with 13 full-time employees. Today, the department includes physical therapy, activities/recreation therapy, medical massage therapy, occupational therapy and speech and language pathology. Meelhuysen adds that they will soon be adding cardiac rehabilitation and growing the pediatric speech and occupational therapy programs as well as sports medicine.

“My goal is to provide the rehabilitation services East Lewis County residents need so they do not have to travel out of town to receive excellent, comprehensive care,” says Meelhuysen. “I am super excited about growing our team. The people we have brought on are highly competent individuals who are able to provide these services at an excellent level of care.”

In addition to meeting the inpatient and outpatient needs, maintaining this level of staffing was vital to the hospital being able to add the Transitional Care Unit in 2018. The Mayo Clinic-modeled program is designed for patients who are well enough to leave the traditional acute-care hospital setting but aren’t quite well enough to go home. These patients still require additional skilled medical care, nursing care and plenty of rehabilitation services.

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Debbi Cole, PTA, assists her patient in the aquatic therapy pool. Photo courtesy: Arbor Health

Meelhuysen says he does not anticipate needing to hire more staff in the near future, but they do plan to expand their services to the community. The department is readying to offer a variety of free community education programs and patient support groups later this year.

For more information on the rehabilitation services offered, call 360-496-3593 and check the Arbor Health website at MyArborHealth.org.



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