Physiotherapy is an important sector of the healthcare field, especially as an aid to recovering from an injury or treating physical limitations. Unfortunately, it is difficult to secure funding in this area for underprivileged members of our community. After recognizing a need for physiotherapy at The Lighthouse, Nurse Practitioner Jeannie Coe set out to create a volunteer based program. She contacted the Saskatchewan Physiotherapy Association who put out an email and several members responded. One of them was CBI Health Group who offered to donate their services free of charge.
The program launched in April, and has been seeing positive results over the past two months. A group of five young physiotherapists have been taking turns coming to The Lighthouse every Friday afternoon to meet with clients and assess their health concerns.
Ryan Fehr and Lindsey Tasker are two physios who jumped at the opportunity to work at The Lighthouse. “I was really excited to see different presentations of various conditions that I had never seen before,” says Tasker, “so it’s been exciting for me just as a therapist to gain more experience.”
Fehr says they’ve been seeing “a variety of clients presenting with different neurological and musculoskeletal conditions and injuries, both acute and chronic.” Tasker nods in agreement and adds, “I’ve seen long standing injuries that never got attention, which should have probably seen therapy at some point after the injury. So we’re seeing them months, years later. It’s unfortunate, but at least we can provide care now and get people on the right path.”
When the therapists meet a client, they assess their injury, answer questions and decide on the best method of treatment. Sometimes they give clients stretches or exercises to do every day, and they print out pictures to help them remember. “But there’s also the education component,” Fehr explains, “because a lot of these people have chronic pain or arthritic pain that they don’t understand. One thing as physios that we really try to promote is independence in your own care. We assist where needed, and then give them control to take care of themselves.”
Although they encourage clients to come back for follow up sessions, Tasker says the most challenging part is not knowing if they will see their patients again, “I find I’m definitely spending a lot more time educating them on a bunch of different things, where normally I would spread that out over several visits at the clinic.”
Fehr and Tasker also have the opportunity to train students through this program. Second year physiotherapy students from the U of S have been sitting in on assessments for the past few weeks and say they’ve been learning a lot. “It’s a different population than what we normally get exposed to, which I think is the most valuable part,” says Shelby Schemenauer.
After seeing the physiotherapist, clients have been speaking with Garnette Weber, who is the Physio Project Manager. She has just started conducting a survey to gather information about the results of the program. Weber plans on using her research to apply for long term funding towards a permanent physiotherapy position at The Lighthouse.
Everyone involved with the program says that a full time physiotherapist is a much needed service at The Lighthouse. “It would be very challenging for a lot of the residents to be able to access physio outside of here,” says Weber, “They’ve really appreciated that it was available here and they can just go in when it fit with them in a place where they’re comfortable.”
With the Education and Wellness Center set to be completed by the end of September, a more frequent physiotherapy program would be welcomed. The center’s gym and exercise area offers the perfect environment for a therapist to conduct fitness classes designed to work on muscle strength, balance and body awareness.
Although the future of the program is up in the air, Fehr and Tasker have learned a lot from this valuable experience. Both therapists agree that the clients are the best part, “The people we’ve met are incredible and they’re very friendly and very appreciative of our care,” says Fehr, “To hear their stories and to give them a chance to tell their stories, it’s been a really good opportunity. And then we can share our experiences and try to change that stigma and the way others think about homeless people in Saskatoon.”