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Rehab Hospitals Retooling

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, April 25, 2011
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Editor's note: This story was originally published in the April issue of HealthLeaders Magazine.

Rehabilitation hospitals are remaking themselves. Not through brick and mortar, but in innovative approaches to improve patient care with interdisciplinary techniques in an evolving marketplace.

Indeed, rehabilitation care is changing, not only in terms of the needs of patients, but also in the manner of delivery in the wake of regulatory changes and federal funding constraints. Local rehab centers are finding increased ROI in serving patients in nearby communities with a broad spectrum of ailments, and are teaming up to confront financial challenges and improve quality outcomes.

Larger, specialized facilities are focusing more on longer-term care and specific illnesses, such as patients beginning their road to recovery after a spinal cord injury. Whether the hospitals are large or small, however, improved care is the goal, so when patients leave the hospital they can go right home, instead of spending time in extended care or nursing facilities.

All this is occurring at a time of significant demographic change. “We’re seeing two populations with spinal cord injuries right now in need of rehabilitation,” says Suzanne L. Groah, MD, MSPH, director of spinal cord injury research for the 137-licensed-bed National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, DC. More and more, she says, “we’re seeing people who are injured at 60 years old,” contrasting that to years ago when most of the injuries were younger men in car accidents. But there is greater need, in a sense, because “these are aging people” who need rehabilitation, but also have conditions such as cancer near the spinal cord and, increasingly, other ailments, such as urinary tract infections or ulcers.

Rehab hospitals linked to acute care facilities are seeing improved outcomes and reduced expenses by revamping their hospital structure for greater cooperation, says Elaine Rohlik, executive director for rehab and trauma services for WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, NC, which includes an 84-licensed-bed inpatient rehabilitation hospital. The system’s acute care and rehabilitation hospitals combine strategies through varied committee assignments and leadership changes, Rohlik says.

The hospital system has developed an acute and trauma care specialty team that coordinates care improvements.

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