Martha’s Vineyard Hospital gives physical therapy space a stretch

Tony Gramkowski, right, takes a stroll and Jerry Jeffers a row in the Cardiac Rehab Department's new exercise room. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Rehab and Wellness Department and Cardiac Rehab Department at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) finally have room enough to stretch.

In October, the two departments moved their operations from a very cramped exercise room, scattered offices, and treatment areas to occupy almost an entire renovated wing in the old hospital building. Acute care, maternity, and intensive care services were formerly provided there.

The Rehab and Wellness Department includes outpatient occupational, physical and speech therapy, under the direction of director Julie Whitehill.

Before the department’s move, physical therapy treatment tables were in the same room as cardiac rehab equipment, in the opposite wing at the front of the old hospital building. Manual, speech, and hand therapy were elsewhere, depending on where space was available.

All together now

“It’s lovely that we’re all in one location now for our base,” Ms. Whitehill said when The Times took a tour last week.

The department’s staff includes eight physical therapists, five occupational therapists, one speech therapist and three clerical workers, plus a few who work on a per diem basis. In addition to outpatient treatments, therapists also provide care to MVH acute care and Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center patients.

Occupational therapist Lauren Weaver, who specializes in treating hands and upper extremities, said she previously shared a small office space in the maternity ward with another physical therapist. “We were so crowded in our old space that sometimes therapists had to treat patients on a mat on the floor,” she said.

Ms. Weaver now has her own treatment room, which she shares only occasionally with another therapist. “The best part of the move to the new wing is it offers patient confidentiality.”

In the past, some patients complained that they felt uncomfortable giving their medical histories and discussing their diagnoses within earshot of others, according to Ms. Weaver. The situation was compounded by the fact that so many Islanders know each other.

Ms. Weaver said the new space also offers opportunities for therapists who want to be trained in specialty treatments that require privacy, since they can now work in rooms where they can shut the door. For example, craniosacral therapy, which she also provides, works best if a patient is treated in a quiet, relaxed environment.

Ms. Whitehill said having more offices and a reception area also enhance patient confidentiality. “We have a really nice staff workspace now where we can all spread out.”

Comrades in cardio

Down the hall is the Cardiac Rehab Department, which is the umbrella for cardiopulmonary services including cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, respiratory care, and testing.

The department’s new quarters include a spacious exercise area and separate rooms for electrocardiography and stress tests.

“We are over the top with our new space,” Nurse Manager Pam Lindgren said last week.

Equipment includes treadmills, stationary bicycles, an elliptical machine, and rowing machine, positioned so patients can look out windows while exercising at a garden started in 1980 by Marjorie and Edward Farrow in memory of their daughter Mary. Birdfeeders, a popular feature with patients in the old space, were carried over to the new.

Cardiac nurse M.J. Rogers, who staffs cardiac rehab with Ms. Lindgren, can appreciate her new workplace in the renovated wing from a “before” and “after” perspective. “I used to work here in the Intensive Care Unit,” she said. “I think this is a credit to the vision of the architect. With the partitions torn down and everything open to natural light, it feels great. Patients are thrilled with it.”

Ms. Rogers said there are about 45 patients who regularly come to cardiac rehab. “Our patient load has grown, so our new space makes it easier for us to keep an eye on everyone,” she said.

Depending on their health issues, some patients who complete their cardiac rehab program opt to continue to exercise at MVH on a self-pay basis, while others choose to join health clubs or work out at home, Ms. Lindgren said. Patients who remain at MVH pay quarterly and have the option of attending one, two or three days per week, at a cost of $7.75 per session.

“We have some people who have been in the program for 20 years,” she noted. “We think we’ve got a pretty decent formula. We keep the atmosphere enjoyable and light, because we want people to enjoy coming and hopefully get them to make it become a permanent habit — that’s what we strive for.”

TV or not TV

Both she and Ms. Rogers spoke of the camaraderie that their program’s participants share. However, they said when they first moved to the improved exercise room, the usually congenial group developed some unexpected friction over two new flat-screen televisions.

“The TVs have been an ongoing battle; some people wanted the Fox channel, some wanted CNN,” Ms. Lindgren said with a laugh. “At one point we joked that we might divide the room and put conservatives on one side and liberals on the other.”

“So we opted for the music channels instead,” she added. “We really want to focus more on the sociability aspect for patients while they’re here, because we find that they learn more from talking to one another and sharing stories.”

The Rehab and Wellness Department has its own entrance at the back of the old hospital building next to Windemere, to make it convenient for patients to park close by. There is a ramp for handicapped access and an automatic door.