Responding to the COVID-19 crisis has been a challenge for all areas of medicine, and it’s no different for the outpatient physical therapy clinics of Team Rehabilitation. For Jeffrey Dehn, PT, OMPT, Clinic Director of the Livonia 2 Clinic, the past few months have been like no other. In March, he began experiencing a sore throat, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Before feeling ill, Dehn — who exercises regularly, runs marathons, and plays indoor soccer — was in great shape.
“While I was sick I did breathing exercises, because I could feel that my right lung was not functioning well. After recovering from the initial symptoms, I still felt really tired,” says Dehn, who has been a certified orthopedic manual physical therapist — a concentration that focuses on improving rib mobility, thoracic mobility, and breathing — since 2008. He became a tai chi instructor two years ago, and says that discipline also emphasizes breath control.
As Dehn was coping with his own lung function challenges, and as those infected with COVID-19 continued to increase, he and fellow Team Rehab physical therapists joined together to establish a specialized program to aid in improving strength and respiratory function for those recovering from the virus.
“I thought that for patients who may have started out deconditioned, or for clients who were hospitalized, they would need a recovery plan,” Dehn says. Under the guidance of Gwynne Waters, PT, DPT, OMPT, SCS, Vice President of Continuing Education at Team Rehab, the Lung Strong Program was established. The team consulted with expert physicians and respiratory therapists to develop the program, which was designed so it can be implemented via telemedicine or in the clinic, and then tailored to the needs of individual patients.
The virus’s effect on the body is extensive, and while it targets the lungs, a lack of oxygen and widespread inflammation throughout the body can harm the kidneys, liver, heart, brain, and other organs. For patients who have fought the virus, the recovery process and road to wellness can be long.
“We really thought there would be a need, and as it turns out we have more than 55,000 people in Michigan alone who have recovered from COVID-19,” Dehn says.
Lung Strong aims to help patients restore their strength, endurance, and normal breathing capacity; help people resume their participation in activities of daily living and recreational activities; and resolve new issues with pain, stiffness, or weakness. The program utilizes breathing exercises as well as strength and endurance exercises, and monitors vitals. Although Dehn initially thought patients would mostly be elderly, as the illness is skewed toward impacting this population, his first client was in her 30s and wanted to improve her strength and stamina in order to go back to work.
Team Rehab screens every patient and staff member every day, utilizing a series of questions and monitoring temperatures. All staff and patients are required to wear masks, which are provided if needed.
Each Team Rehab clinic has also made a significant reduction in the number of patients in the clinic at any one time, to allow greater physical distancing. Dehn’s clinic has accomplished this by changing the schedule so only two or three therapists are in the clinic at the same time. Clinics have been encouraged to create more space or put barriers between treatment tables. The treadmill may be in an area where it can be blocked by a curtain, and anything touched is sanitized prior to patient use. Hand sanitizers are located throughout the clinic, and staff and patients are encouraged to offer any other ideas about ways to maximize safety.
“Things changed so quickly throughout this crisis. Fortunately, we’ve been able to continue to adhere to our core principle: Do what’s best for our patients,” Dehn says.
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