Children deserve the chance to be children – to go to school, to play with others, and to enjoy all of the wonderment that comes with youth. But that wonderment often turns into parents wondering where the system has failed them as they look to find the proper resources should their child be in need of acute physical rehabilitation.
In too many markets around the country, there is a severe shortage of pediatric and adolescent acute rehabilitation hospitals. The reasons for this are many. In some communities there is a shortage of pediatric physicians or other clinical specialists expressly trained in their field. In other cases the need has not been evident as parents prefer to rely on a combination of home care and outpatient services to care for their child. Those realities have resulted in only the most critical children being admitted into an acute rehab facility. And that is a great disservice.
Truth be told, pediatric rehabilitation hospitals can achieve far superior outcomes when compared to home care and realize shorter lengths of stay when benchmarked against generic acute care facilities. Simply put, children can get back home, back to school, and back to being kids faster and with better outcomes when they are cared for in a child-focused acute rehabilitation setting.
The reason for this is simple: Taking care of children requiring rehabilitation due to illness or injury is all they do. The clinical and support staffs at these hospitals are specially trained to work with children in an organized and systematic way to provide the age and developmentally appropriate activities each child needs. Their focus is never distracted by other patients or other needs, and because of this core competency best practices emerge.
The best pediatric rehab hospitals have the capacity to combine the talents of their clinical staff with the latest cutting-edge technology, including such things as biofeedback and virtual reality. The confluence of clinical excellence with a high degree of tenderness has been shown to inspire children to gain the skills, capabilities and confidence needed to return to home and school and to achieve their greatest potential.
The list of children, adolescents and young adults who can benefit from care in this setting is enormous and includes those recovering from neurological injury, spinal cord injury, brain surgery, amputation, orthopedic injuries, stroke, sports injuries, Guillain-Barre syndrome, multiple traumas, cancer, burns and much more.
Depending on the needs of the individual child, the clinical resources available at a top-flight pediatric acute rehab hospital are unlike any found anywhere else. They can include physicians, rehabilitation nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, respiratory therapists, and neuropsychologists. These clinicians are supported by an entire team of dietitians, case managers and other pediatric specialists all focused on the specific needs of the child.
Pediatric acute rehabilitation hospitals have much to contribute to America’s healthcare landscape. But for their value to be fully realized, three things need to occur:
- First, physicians and case managers need to embrace the overwhelming evidence supporting the efficacy of these hospitals and begin to more routinely consider them a vital component of the entire healthcare spectrum.
- Second, managed care organizations and other insurance carriers need to do the same and realize the long-term benefits that are derived from making sure children get the care they need in the right and most-effective setting.
- Third, parents need to think anew regarding what is best for their child and realize that having their child admitted to an acute rehabilitation hospital does not remove them from participating in the care and treatment of their loved one. In fact, families must remain an important part of the healing, which is why these hospitals routinely provide families with the training and resources needed for a child’s smooth transition back to home, school and play.
Pediatric rehabilitation may be the most challenging subspecialty within the field of rehab medicine as it focuses on maximizing the function and enhancing the lives of children with a wide spectrum of medically complex needs. It takes a certain kind of expertise and certain kinds of people to be able to do it well. Fortunately, those people exist. Now it is time to maximize their value.
Irwin Hansen is chief operating officer of Totally Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Loma Linda, California.