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Ribbon cut on rehab center: Renovations completely funded through rural hospital tax credit program


The News and Farmer

While many rural hospitals are making use of the new state tax credit funds to pay its employees and keep their doors open, Jefferson Hospital is expanding its services and looking to grow.
Officials recently cut the ribbon at its new Rehabilitation Center and therapists hope to start seeing their first patients there this week.
The hospital has owned the building across the walking track from its main campus for years but had most recently been renting it to a dialysis provider. When that business decided to vacate, Lou Semrad, Jefferson Hospital CEO, decided to use the space for its growing physical therapy, occupational therapy and rehabilitation department.
“The money to renovate this building came from the taxpayers of Jefferson County,” Semrad said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “All of the money is from the Georgia (Rural Hospital) Tax Credit program. None of the money for the remodel came out of the operating account. Local money, local service.”
In all the hospital has collected around $240,000 through local citizens taking advantage of this new program that allows them to allocate 90 percent of their state income taxes to their rural hospital.
“What you see inside is only part of it,” Semrad said. “We still haven’t bought all the equipment yet. We still have probably $115,000 to spend.”
Phase one of the project involved the completed renovations and new equipment that has allowed the center to open.
Around eight months ago, Semrad said, he charged Ashlee Arrington OTR/L and the Rehab Service Director, with the duties of planning the renovation and envisioning what the center could be.
“I gave her my vision and a rough budget and let her go,” Semrad said. “She has done an absolutely fantastic job.”
Arrington called the project a labor of love for her and her entire department.
When she started with the hospital in 2001 it was just herself and one other therapist in the two-room former labor and delivery suite.
“Back then we might see four to six patients a week and now we discharge more patients in a quarter than we did all year,” Arrington said. Her department has 120 appointments scheduled for this week alone.
“We now have a building that is 8,500 square feet,” she said. “We have been treating in a room that houses five therapists and it is significantly smaller. For us it is a major expansion. It is significantly more space.”
The new center also has individual offices, its own medical records storage and a conference room where before they all shared one space.
In addition to some of the circuit training equipment, treadmills and the recumbent elliptical that was used in the hospital’s wellness center, Arrington said that they have been able to add new treatment mats, hydraulic lifts, and a harness system with an overhead track that helps with balance training and fall prevention.
Phase two, which Semrad said should be implemented in the next 60 days, will include offering cardio pulmonary rehab.
“We are in the process of selecting some equipment for that,” Semrad said. “This is a new service for us. We are looking at creating a position for that. So we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars, looking at creating new jobs in Jefferson County.”
Arrington said that they plan to start with pulmonary rehab first and then move into the cardiac side, serving patients who have conditions or suffered heart attacks, helping them with both strength and endurance.
The third phase, which is about six months out, will include the addition of a HydroWorx underwater treadmill system.
“We will be one of four or five in the state of Georgia,” Semrad said. “And this will allow us to expand our services outside of the county.”
This self-contained heated pool will benefit patients whose skeletal muscular systems benefit from having less weight on them during therapy.
“We’re really excited about this,” Arrington said. “It has the treadmill in it so we can work with arthritic patients who don’t do well on a regular treadmill. We can work on mobility for them. We can also let the water down to about a foot depth and work with pediatric patients if we need to. We’re really interested in working with the schools so the coaches can do endurance training or rehab for their athletes.”
The heated water helps with circulation, Semrad said, and the system also offers a jet of water that can offer additional resistance.
Plans for phase three at the new center also include expanding its wound care services.
“We are doing some wound care in the clinics now, but this is a new service for us,” Semrad said.
Arrington said that new staff member Erin Nobles FNP-C, has a lot of experience and is trained and certified in wound care. The rehab department often has to help patients who suffer from diabetic ulcers, abrasions that don’t heal, insect bites and post surgical complications. In the past they have had to refer some patients out to the burn center in Augusta, but as phase three is completed, Nobles will be able to treat more of those patients locally.
The opening of Jefferson Hospital’s rehab center comes about a year after it opened a rehab clinic in Wrens which it operates two days a week.
Semrad said that the clinic there has exceeded his expectations and even with the opening of the new center, he said they may look at adding days to the services there.
“We are catching a lot of patients who would migrate out to Thomson or Augusta. They are taking advantage of being able to get therapy in their own backyard,” Arrington said.
Last month, she said they saw about half as many patients in Wrens in two days as they did in a full week in Louisville.
“That’s out patient clients,” Arrington said. “We are still going to keep our in-patient gym (in the hospital) in the space we are in currently. We will utilize that for the patients who are in the hospital or in swing beds. They will still be able to be seen in the hospital proper without having to cross over to the new (Louisville) facility.”
She attributes the growth in her department to both an emphasis put there from the hospital’s administration, but also from community and former referrals.
They are seeing a lot more patients who need rehab services after joint replacement surgeries she said.
“Their quality of life is much higher and they are very interested in being active much longer,” Arrington said. “We are also seeing patients who are by word of mouth, because we’ve been in the community so long and we take so much pride in what we do. It’s helped for us to build that rapport with the community to get the referrals back.”
Every time they have added a staff member in the department, she said, it seems like their numbers have jumped significantly.
“It’s kind of one of those, build it and they will come,” she said and laughed. “This (new center) is a rare gem for us too. Most rural hospitals, their therapists, are treating in a corner or a patient room. They really don’t have the space, the equipment, the access like we are being given with this new facility. It is very, very rare for an outpatient hospital-based department. This is something more akin to what you would see in a free-standing outpatient clinic. It’s an amazing asset for Jefferson County.”
She encourages any community members who want a tour of the facility to call their department and schedule a time to come by. The center can be reached at 478-253-HEAL (4325).


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