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A look at: Rehabilitation Services

Physical Therapist Elena Perrier working with a patient

YNHH’s rehabilitation specialists work in inpatient and outpatient locations throughout the hospital. Elena Perrier, physical therapist, worked with a patient at YNHH’s Spine Center at One Long Wharf.

Rehabilitation and Wellness Center earns national recognition

Newsweek recently named YNHH’s Rehabilitation and Wellness Center a top Physical Rehabilitation Center 2023. The Center was ranked #4 in the Northeast and among the top 50 rehabilitation centers in the U.S. Located at Bridgeport Hospital’s Milford Campus, the inpatient Center provides daily intensive, one-on-one therapy to patients recovering from serious illness, surgery or injury. Its multidisciplinary team includes physical and occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, physician specialists, nurses, advanced practice providers, dietitians, social workers and prosthetic/orthotic technicians.

Mention physical, occupational or speech therapy and many people probably think of healthcare professionals who help patients recover from orthopedic injuries or neurologic events such as stroke.

Rehabilitation specialists do this and much more. The 266 employees with Yale New Haven Hospital’s Rehabilitation Services department provide a wide range of therapies to patients in different settings and service lines, including some areas you might not expect.

In addition to occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and physical therapists, the department employs recreational therapists and psychiatric counselors, along with physical therapist assistants and occupational therapist assistants.

Some rehabilitation professionals specialize within their disciplines. YNHH’ s occupational and physical therapists hold multiple specialty certifications, in areas such as hand and upper extremity rehabilitation, pelvic health, oncology, pediatric and assistive technology, to name a few.

Rehabilitation specialists work in General Medicine and Surgery, Orthopedics, Oncology, Heart and Vascular, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Home Care, Women’s Health, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Psychiatry and other service lines.

“We are all over the hospital, from ambulatory sites to the ICUs,” said Vikki Winks, executive director, Rehabilitation Services and Executive Health, Yale New Haven Hospital. “As integral members of the care team, we collaborate with physicians and staff in other disciplines to care for patients of all ages.”

YNHH’s speech-language pathologists treat patients with swallowing, voice and speech disorders related to neurologic conditions, complex head and neck cancers, neonatal and pediatric feeding concerns and other issues.

“The most rewarding part of my work is also the most challenging,” said Ruchi Rana, a speech-language pathologist who works in the inpatient and outpatient settings. “Very few of my patients are ‘textbook’ cases. It’s a dynamic field, which I enjoy.”

Like other complex conditions, the neurologic disorders speech and language pathologists treat may require multiple types of rehabilitation. Occupational therapist Melissa Cassidy primarily treats patients with neurologic disorders in the outpatient setting.

“It is such a rewarding experience to help people regain their independence and help them to be able to participate in daily life activities that are meaningful to them,” she said.

Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital’s (YNHPH’s) rehabilitation specialists treat patients whose mental health concerns can affect cognitive, physical and social functioning.

As an inpatient psychiatric counselor, Michele McCray facilitates groups from different YNHPH units, helping patients with health and wellness, addiction recovery, different types of behavior therapies, creative expression and brain fitness.

“My role allows me to work alongside patients to support their individual recovery,” she said. “It encourages me to develop group topics to meet patients’ ever-changing needs and preferences.”

Physical and occupational therapy also play a role in psychiatric care.

“You might have patients with severe depression who have difficulty getting out of bed and engaging in self-care,” said Cristina Tancreti, occupational therapist and manager of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. “Many patients with medical conditions may become depressed or feel anxiety.”

Colby Sirowich, YNHPH occupational therapist, educates patients about their illnesses and helps them develop life-management and coping skills to manage their transition back to the community.

“My work is immensely rewarding as I have the privilege to play a role in our patients’ recovery plans,” she said.

Education – for patients and their family members – is also an important part of rehabilitation. Physical therapists use prescribed exercise and other treatments to help restore function, improve movement and reduce pain and discomfort in patients with injuries, illnesses or disabilities. Often, patients learn how to do exercises at home.

“My role has primarily to do with mobility and safety. Movement is medicine and not receiving it during any length of hospital stay can have detrimental effects on a patient’s health,” said Dylan Lankford, inpatient physical therapist. “We evaluate what activities a patient can safely perform with nursing and revise this mobility ‘prescription’ as their functional status improves. As the patient progresses towards their medical clearance from the hospital, we determine the safest discharge location, whether home or rehab, and what equipment or services they may require.”

“It’s fulfilling to equip my patients with the tools they need to maintain an active lifestyle,” said Elaine Horn, an outpatient physical therapist with Rehabilitation and Occupational Health in Guilford. “I can empower patients to self-manage their symptoms with exercise, which helps them get back to the things they have been unable to do because of their injury.”

Regardless of their roles, rehabilitation specialists said they enjoy partnering with their patients to improve their quality of life.

“The best part of my day is providing a smile, laughter and even an encouraging word or two to my patients,” said Melissa Sanchez, rehabilitation associate, Outpatient Rehabilitation, Yale Physicians Building (YPB). “I always welcome patients to our ‘tiny but mighty gym,’ where they are encouraged to think positively and exceed beyond measures.”

Said Steve Jersey, a physical therapist who also works at YPB Rehabilitation, “It is a daily reward to educate, motivate and become a part of another person’s goal to return to an activity they were once unable to perform.”

Jordan Blohm, occupational therapist, working with patient

Jordan Blohm, occupational therapist, worked with a patient at Outpatient Rehabilitation at 175 Sherman Ave. in New Haven. Sept. 18 – 24 is National Rehabilitation Awareness Week.