Inspiring more health, less medicine

Heather Hayes never imagined being cut off from interacting with her clients.  She is a physical therapist, after all.  But as COVID restrictions shut down non-acute care clinics, including the L. S. Skaggs Patient Wellness Center where she offers fitness training and education, Hayes and her team had to act nimbly.

The L. S. Skaggs Patient Wellness Center runs on synergy.  From its inception in 2016, the collaboration of caregivers and participants – along with College of Health faculty and students – makes the center a well-oiled healthcare collective.  Shutting down was an obstacle, but the Skaggs team navigated it like they did before COVID: collectively.

The L.S. Skaggs Patient Wellness Center provides health and wellness programming for individuals in our community.  Through an innovative inter-professional approach, students and faculty from the Colleges of Health, Pharmacy, Nursing, and the School of Dentistry work together to the benefits of our patients and clients.

“We fill a need for individuals who have progressed after physical therapy or after inpatient therapy but are not in a position yet to go to a local community gym,” says Ellen Maxfield, the center’s Clinical Operations Manager. The clinic – and its fitness facility – is ideal for stroke survivors, kneed and hip replacement patients, and individuals with a chronic neurological disease such as Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis.

What happens when this one-stop shop closes indefinitely?

L.S. Skaggs got clever and rose to meet the needs of its community.  First, they launched an outreach team.  “We did everything from checking in and offering emotional and mental support, to connecting them to community resources like grocery pickup and delivery,” Maxfield says.  “We made sure they knew how to get their medications and how to get connected via My Chart to stay in contact with their primary care provider.”

From there, they mad personalized phone calls once a week, or every other week, depending on the client’s preference.  “It is so simple to ask if they’re okay or how their two dogs are doing, because I know she has two dogs.  It’s the personal touch that made it effective and meaningful,” Maxfield shares.

Next up.  Skaggs participants mobilized to a virtual world.  Jordan Harris, who runs L.S. Skaggs’ programming and staffing, enlisted College of Health students to help.  “The students have been hugely helpful in transitioning manly participants to technology.  This would not be happening if it were not for the students to help make 100 calls per week,” he says.

Heather Hayes kept her folks moving – and smiling – with online fitness classes three times a week.  Sixteen people signed up within hours of the class being announced in an e-newsletter.  “It might not look like your regular Zumba class,” Hayes says.  “It covers fall prevention, fall recovery, strength and cardiovascular exercise.  We brought in mindfulness practices and yoga.  We even tried our own variations of OrangeTheory Fitness and barre workouts.”

What makes these classes so special is the personal touch?  “They love Heather!” Maxfield says.  Hayes offers humor with personal stories, alongside education on combating imbalance, low back pain, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

“This has been a tremendous model for exercise, and I would encourage a change in physical therapy practice if I was to do it,” Hayes notes.  Typically, she relies on her patients to carry out customized exercise programs on their own (or with a caregiver) at home.  That doesn’t always happen.  “But virtually, I can get more out of the individual by being in a group.  I think most of them are surprised by how much fitness they’ve been able to attain by being consistent, understanding what to do, and that they can do it at home.”

Andy many participants would agree.  A group of participants and providers from L.S. Skaggs Patient Wellness Center and U of U Health’s TRAILS program safely gathered to celebrate six months of virtual trainings by showing how they exceeded their fitness goals by walking, running, or riding around the perimeter of Liberty Park.  Each member shares similar insight about the impact the program has had on them.  Participants felt they had a greater sense of routine and purpose during the quarantine, with regular classes to participate in and familiar faces to socialize with.  Where many individuals may have struggles to stay physically active throughout the pandemic, participants at L.S. Skaggs have been able to maintain or strengthen their physical well-being, a true example of “More Health, Less Medicine.”

Mayfield, Hayes, and Harris look forward to seeing their participants inn-person soon, but in the meantime, they’ll continue to educate, guide, instruct and, most importantly, be an ally.  Hayes notes, “Not having the L.S. Skaggs Patient Wellness Center would be a terrible thing.  It brings in all pieces from social work to physical therapy to nutrition.  Ellen has done a tremendous amount of work to bring in the College of Health as a collaborative resource.  It would be so great to see it expand.  I can’t do my job without them.”