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Focus on Role of Rehab During Rehab Awareness Week

web posted September 18, 2009
GUEST EDITORIAL – Most people, at some point in their lives, may worry briefly about being in a car accident. Most, however, don’t worry about what might happen after that accident and how their lives could be changed.

Paul Harvey said it best. It’s what we in the rehabilitation world call, “The rest of the story.”

For many in the CSRA, Walton is just a sign they pass on 13th Street on their way to downtown Augusta, to Riverwatch to get to Columbia County or to the 13th Street Bridge into North Augusta. Most people know that “we do rehab.” And if you or a loved one has never had to have therapy, that might not mean very much. But if you’ve ever had a pain issue, a sports-related injury, a car accident or a stroke, Walton and its role in rehabilitation in the CSRA mean a lot to you and your family.

When Walton broke ground nearly 25 years ago on a little plot of land on 13th Street, it was because community leaders saw a need in the area to help those living “the rest of the story.” Before Walton, there were families driving to Atlanta and Charleston on a regular basis to get necessary rehabilitation for their loved ones. Now, Walton fills an important niche in Augusta’s comprehensive medical community.

Led by fellowship-trained physicians, our mission is simple: to restore ability, hope and independence to people who need medical rehabilitation and/or community supports following temporary illness, injury or a life-changing disability. To achieve that mission, Walton’s health system—what we like to call our “continuum of care”—includes an inpatient hospital, outpatient therapy center and a pain and headache center at our main campus on 13th Street. Across the street, our medical director, Dr. Pam Salazar, holds a wheelchair and seating clinic, and in the same building, we are partnering with MedEx Associates to provide hospitalist and primary care services for our patients. In Aiken, we have the Aiken Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, led by Dr. John Nicholson, who holds the distinction of being Aiken’s first physical medicine and rehabilitation physician.

Walton West Transitional Living Center, located on Bertram Road, works with survivors of brain injury who are well enough to leave the hospital, but not quite ready to go home, helping them relearn important life skills. In West Augusta, Harison Heights offers a home for patients with acquired disabilities by providing both assisted and independent living options. And all across the CSRA, from South Augusta to North Augusta to Thomson, Walton Community Services has built 10 independent living neighborhoods with accessible homes designed for qualified individuals with acquired disabilities or seniors.

Walton Options for Independent Living, Walton’s community partner and a federally funded center for independent living (one of only four in Georgia), helps individuals with equipment needs, vocational services and so much more through offices in downtown Augusta and North Augusta. And Walton Foundation for Independence supports life-enhancing programs like Walton’s monthly adaptive golf clinic at the First Tee of Augusta and Camp To Be Independent, an annual camp for children and teens with traumatic brain injury at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, Ga.

Over the past 20-plus years, thousands of patients and families have been touched by Walton. As one of our patients recently shared with us, “Walton is so positive. I was never told anything negative, which made me more excited to go in everyday. Anything I wanted to do, they were 100 percent behind me. Walton told me, ‘You can do this,’ and they showed me I could.”

The goal of rehab is just this: Our therapists, nurses, doctors and staff work to make a patient stronger, more able and to help them be independent. For someone with chronic back pain, that could mean aquatic therapy or radiofrequency ablation to help reduce pain. For an athlete with a bad sprain, it could be working with a therapist to improve balance and strength in the ankle. For a stroke patient, it could mean Bioness equipment, which delivers stimulation to the muscles to help patients regain motor skills. And for someone with a brain injury after a car accident, it could mean working with life skills teachers at Walton West to complete daily activities like shopping, banking, gardening and more to reinforce those skills.

Rehabilitation is a challenging field. But it’s also incredibly positive and rewarding, not only for the patients and families but, speaking as a former physical therapist, for the staff. And as a nonprofit community health system, we’re proud of our mission to serve and be an advocate for all those with acquired disabilities. Walton recently completed its five-year strategic plan, and as we continue to plan to expand our services in the CSRA in response to the growing needs of our patients, we depend more than ever on the support of our local communities, which are anyplace where patients with acquired disabilities need help and support.

Dennis Skelley 

Editor's note: Dennis Skelley is President and CEO of Walton Rehabilitation Health System in Augusta, Ga.

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