When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, essential care for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients was halted. This was difficult for MS patients living in Utah because they already struggled to find individualized and MS-specific physical therapy (PT) rehabilitation and wellness services to address their symptoms and healthcare needs. The Multiple Sclerosis Physical Therapy and Wellness Center staff at the Community Rehabilitation Clinic (CRC) quickly adapted in order to continue providing much-needed care to patients to Utah residents.
Knowing the needs of individuals with MS, MS Physical Therapy and Wellness Center Director Hina Garg, PT, MS, PhD, along with CRC staff transitioned the program to telehealth.
CRC physical therapy assistant (PTA) Bet Hawley explained, “Our goal is to create a group where people with MS can, under the guidance of skilled practitioners, exercise safely based on their current limitations and capabilities, and where possible, help them improve their level of function by creating habits of exercise and self-monitoring.”
Jared Labrum, another CRC PTA, explained, “Individuals with MS are usually immuno-compromised so it’s not safe for them to be in big groups, so we were trying to figure out ways to keep seeing them. We came up with the idea of telehealth telewellness, which basically allowed us to continue doing treatments with them in their homes.” The staff provided patients with exercise equipment so they could do the workouts in their home.
He explained that patients were paired up in groups of two to three, grouping them based on their functional levels, then have them do a set of exercises and continue to progress them to become stronger and healthier. “It’s helped keep them motivated,” said Labrum.
Hawley added, “The patients have really enjoyed this program because they have not felt isolated in their homes. In addition to the twice-a-week exercises, we meet all together once a month to have a virtual lunch and chat. They get to visit regularly and feel connected with others that have the same challenges.”
Emily Gard, a Rocky Mountain University of Health Profession (RMUoHP) Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) student and research assistant at the CRC, has been involved with collecting data, communicating with patients, and leading some of the telewellness sessions for some of the groups. “As a student, I have learned much more about working with individuals with neurological conditions from having the opportunity to work in the MS program. The staff has taught me so much about how quality patient care can be provided through telehealth, and how to be more creative in overcoming barriers when situations like COVID-19 make things more challenging.”
The MS Physical Therapy and Wellness Center at the CRC has been life-changing, not just for the patients who have progressed in their individual wellness journey, but for the staff as well.
For Gard, she has “learned a lot about research, telehealth, and the benefits of wellness programs in general. It has been great to get to know the participants in the program and hear some of their stories, and see such a strong community built among many of the participants in the MS program. The program has continued to play a positive role in their lives, both physically and socially, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Labrum added, “I think anytime you do this job it opens up your eyes to things that are different or challenging. And being grateful for your own health, but also being able to help those improve and become more active. I always feel better when I can make someone else’s day better.” For him, it has become more than just a job. “I consider them my friends. They can hear my stories about my kids. We share jokes. Share recipes and food. I’ve benefited from that. And I’ve gained insight and perspective from their life experiences and what’s happened to them. With those in the wellness program, you get to know them on a personal level.”
For Hawley, working with MS patients has been inspiring. “The patients all come because they want to improve, they want to be involved, they want to use exercise to make a difference in their lives. They are an inspiration to me as they continue to fight what they sometimes feel like is a losing battle due to the progression of this disease. Yet they continue to fight. It has been educational, inspirational, and motivating to me to work with them on a regular basis.”
Due to the high-risk of MS patients and COVID-19, telehealth treatments continue to be the safest method of delivery. The Multiple Sclerosis Physical Therapy and Wellness Center at the Community Rehabilitation Center has continued their efforts to support MS patients, help them progress, and provide resources and a community of connection. For more information, visit https://rmucrc.org/