A four-person team from the Phoenix VA Health Care System’s physical medicine and rehabilitation services took a mobile medical unit to the Globe community-based outpatient clinic in July to provide care to underserved and rural Veterans in need.
Diane R. Johnson, an occupational therapist and assistive technology professional, said in just two hours, the team provided occupational and physical therapy services to 20 Veterans and delivered 27 medical devices for their use.
Johnson said the team assessed each Veteran’s daily living needs, such as if they’re able to get in and out of the shower or if they can dress themselves, and delivered the tools to help the Veterans live a more capable life.
She explained a major part of the occupational therapy mission is to help keep Veterans functional in their homes. She said several of the Veterans in the Globe area said they didn’t want to move from their homes to a nursing facility, so the team provided the Veterans with the equipment necessary to improve their daily living to help meet the Veterans’ wishes.
Dr. Heleno Souza, clinical manager for physical medicine and rehabilitation services, said the planning for his team to provide mobile services to Veterans in Globe was a team effort. He said many Phoenix VA services including informatics, prosthetics, telemedicine, health administrative services and the Globe staff departments pulled together to make the trip a success.
“This is the first time in the Phoenix VA Health Care System’s history that physical and occupational therapy provided mobile care services to Veterans in rural communities,” Souza said. “The Globe clinic doesn’t have rehabilitation and prosthetic services. Those patients are referred to the Phoenix location or out into the community. [Since] the community itself has limited resources, we felt the patients needed us to come out.”
Souza explained a trip to Phoenix can be a challenge for some people. Many Veterans would normally have to take an entire day to travel with their family to Phoenix for needed services.
“Even if we went out there and we only served one patient, to me, the mission would have been accomplished because we made that Veteran’s life better,” Souza said. “As a service member myself, a citizen airman, I would like to see the VA provide that service to my generation, past generations and future generations.”
Dr. Christopher Hansen, the physical therapy section chief, said the mission to the Globe clinic was a success and that the team plans to continue providing mobile services. He said physical medicine and rehabilitation service staff members often discuss how they can better serve Veterans – and one of those discussions was how the idea of using the mobile medical unit came to fruition.
“If someone has back issues and can’t tolerate being in a car, we’re able to go to them and set up mobility equipment,” Hansen said. “We have walkers for them, so once we fit them appropriately, they can be more mobile. We want to make sure the Veterans are safe with their equipment and properly trained. So, it’s important for us to go to them.”
The team of four, which also included Esther Rosa, an occupational therapy section chief, all expressed a desire to continue to find innovative ways to provide care to Veterans. Souza said their wish is to expand the services and bring prosthetics, cardiac rehabilitation and recreational therapy on future missions to rural and underserved communities.
Hansen said the Veterans and their family members were incredibly gracious and appreciative of the staff for their efforts.
“We were so grateful to see the happiness on the faces of patients and their families,” Souza said. “All of them were very thankful that we were there because a lot of them could not travel to Phoenix for their services and needs. This demonstrated that when we partner and form a coalition within the Phoenix VA that the outcomes are immeasurable.”
About the author: Macario Mora is a public affairs specialist with the Phoenix VA Health Care System