FAIRFIELD — It’s appropriate that October is National Physical Therapy Month, because the Jefferson County Health Center’s physical therapy department is celebrating its one-year anniversary now.
In the fall of 2019, the health center opted to make its physical therapists employees instead of independent contractors as they had been. The department got a new team of therapists, including a new therapy services manager, Hannah Losey, who is trained as a physical therapist and athletic trainer.
“All of us started at once, and I didn’t know how that would go,” Losey said. “They did outstanding. We have passionate therapists, and our patients caught onto that quickly.”
Losey said the pandemic has made for an odd first year, but the department is going strong, seeing patients every day.
“We hit the ground running Nov. 1 with our team of therapists who were eager and motivated,” Losey said. “They did outstanding. We were at our prime, everyone was feeling comfortable, and then COVID hit.”
Losey said March was a crazy month. The department had to stop seeing outpatients, following the health center’s lead but did continue inpatient services. Outpatients supply the bulk of the department’s visitors, so with them gone, the office didn’t need as many employees. The staff shrank from 14 to three for a month.
Luckily for the physical therapy department and its patients, that slowdown was only temporary. During that time, the therapists did what they could to help their patients, such as by giving them instruction on how to do exercises at home.
“We started calling patients to start coming back in April, and they were ready to go,” Losey said. “Our staff was eager to get back, too.”
When it was time to invite the patients back to the health center, the department instituted new and improved cleaning procedures for its workout equipment and limited the number of people who could be in its gym at one time.
“The equipment is spaced out all over the room,” Losey said. “And if two people wanted to use two pieces right next to each other, we had to get creative and shuffle their routines around.”
The therapy department has a wide variety of equipment such as a whole-body strengthening system, multiple treadmills, a step machine, and more. Some exercises are designed to mimic the kind of hurdles patients will face at their homes, such as going up steps.
The department does more than exercises, too. Its occupational speech and physical therapy practitioners see children for any developmental delay, whether it be from an illness, injury, or speech skills.
Losey explained that an “occupational” therapist does more than focus on a person’s “occupational” tasks. The term refers to helping a person through their daily routine, whether it’s bathing, dressing or grooming.
“Occupational therapists also specialize in elbow, write and hand; anything with fine-motor skills,” Losey said. “They also help with vision issues, and do a great job with driving evaluations. They assess a person’s reaction time on the road.”
Speech therapists see all ages of people, too, and do more than speech. Losey said they help people with eating and swallowing problems, and work with the elderly on memory tasks, such as those who have suffered cognitive impairment from a stroke or dementia.
Physical therapists work on restoring a person’s functions and helping them achieve their goals. They’re always eager to learn new information about their craft. For instance, Losey mentioned a couple of her department’s physical therapists went to California for 12 days to be trained in lymphedema, which is the swelling of lymph nodes in the arms and legs.
Today, the department’s case load is back where it was. The health center has updated its gym significantly, and is now in the process of remodeling its pediatric room.