In the second article of our three part series on rehabilitation, we look at some of the advantages of receiving rehabilitation services in a skilled nursing care center.

By Sallie Gowan

It’s easy to see that Hazel Griffin has recovered successfully from two total knee replacements. At 82, she walks 2½ to 3 miles a week and is actively involved in her community as a member of the Andalusia City Council.

With every detail of her appearance “just so” and her energetic public service, it might be tempting to think that Griffin came through surgery so well on force of personality alone, as though she wouldn’t have it any other way.

But when you ask, Griffin does not think she’s exceptional – she gives the credit to short-term rehab at a skilled nursing care center, a service that is widely available throughout Alabama. She did her rehab stays at Andalusia Manor, and her friends would tell you that she is quite an evangelist for that type of rehab setting. “If I can get ahold of them in time, they’ll go,” she said.

Advantages of Short-Term Rehab at a Skilled Nursing Care Center

1. Longer, More Frequent Therapy Sessions

Physical Therapist Kathy Morgan said you can think of short-term rehab at a skilled nursing care center as a way to accelerate recovery after joint replacement, so you can get back to driving and all the other things that are part of your normal life. She is director of rehab at Hillview Terrace Rehab Select in Montgomery.

During an overnight stay of a week or more, short-term rehab patients engage in intensive therapy for two to three hours a day, working one-on-one with both physical and occupational therapists and therapy assistants. With other popular rehab options, patients usually see their therapists at most three times a week, with exercises to do independently on other days.

“Short-term rehab is kind of a jumpstart on your therapy,” said Morgan. “If you do this up front, you’re going to get to your end result more quickly.”

2. Comprehensive Care

“Patients receive 24-hour care from different disciplines,” explained Joshua Kilpatrick PT, DPT. The wrap-around care and enhanced communication among clinicians goes well beyond the physical and occupational therapists to include doctors and nurses with deep experience caring for joint replacement patients.

Kilpatrick, who is director of rehabilitation at The Summit Rehabilitation at Mitchell-Hollingsworth in Florence, said therapy is custom-tailored to each individual. Timelines will vary from one person to the next, and therapy can be further fine-tuned based on an individual’s progress.

Some treatment changes require multiple approvals before they can take effect. In a skilled nursing care center, everyone who has to sign off is under one roof, so delays can be reduced. “Right then and there, we can say ‘let’s do this different,’” Kilpatrick said.

At times, people experience unforeseen complications from surgery, perhaps related to another medical condition. With an in-house physician, those issues can be addressed quickly, he added.

Management of pain medication is also enhanced with short-term rehab at a skilled nursing care center. Nurses are especially well equipped to answer questions, and, with an access to doctors, dosages and drugs can be adjusted quickly to reduce pain and minimize side effects.

For her part, Griffin noted that her doses of pain medication were timed to coordinate with the day’s therapy schedule. “They made sure I was pain-free,” she said.

3. Reduced Burden on Friends/Family Caregivers

 There are times when people preparing for joint replacement surgery are concerned about placing heavy demands on loved ones and even situations where the patients themselves are primary caregivers for loved ones.

Joint replacement of a knee or hip generally requires a two- or three-day stay in an acute care hospital for the surgery, and patients usually achieve significant mobility before going home. The National Institutes of Health recommends that you be able to get in and out of bed or a chair without needing much help. Experts there also said you should, with the help of a walker or cane, be able to walk well enough to move between where you are sleeping, your bathroom and your kitchen.

Even so, a home caregiver will likely be called upon to assist in many ways large and small, especially in the first few days. In addition to household chores, example tasks listed in Healthline.com’s “Tips for Caring for Someone After Knee Surgery” include:

  • Helping with basic mobility (standing, sitting and moving from room to room),
  • Helping with basic grooming and getting up from the toilet,
  • Ensuring that medications are taken as prescribed and refills are handled promptly,
  • Observing and monitoring incisions,
  • Providing transportation to follow-up medical appointments.

“Their spouse may not be able to help them or take care of them,” Kilpatrick said.

Many families find short-term rehab at a skilled nursing care center to be a good bridge between hospital and home. As an intermediate step, it can reduce the physical demands on family members as well as any anxiety about proper techniques.

4. Undivided Attention

From the patient’s perspective, a skilled nursing care center allows you to fully focus on your priority – a successful recovery. Meals and snacks are provided, and special dietary needs are accommodated. Certified nursing assistants help with bathing, dressing and trips to the bathroom. There’s laundry service and, oftentimes, an on-site hair salon.

“I didn’t have to worry about anything,” Griffin recalled, “just be prepared to do my therapy.”

After the skilled nursing care center, Griffin continued her rehabilitation with some home-health services, which is not uncommon. “I was able to stay by myself,” she said. “The new physical therapist – he just couldn’t get over how good I was doing.”

Editor’s Note: Sallie Gowan is a freelance writer based in Montgomery, Ala.