New Telerehab program empowers Veterans at home - VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
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New Telerehab program empowers Veterans at home

Magdalen Jean-Baptiste

"After the first week, my mental health had improved. I didn’t realize how down I was, but I had relegated my chronic pain," said Army Veteran Magdalen Jean-Baptiste, a past participant of the Medically Complex Telerehabilitation program. Over the course of the 12-week session, she also saw her step count climb from 2,000 to 11,000 a day.

By Terri Rorke
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Chronic pain was something Army Veteran Magdalen Jean-Baptiste believed she’d experience for the rest of her life. That was until one day when a box arrived at her doorstep packed with an iPad, a Fitbit and more. She was now ready to start a 12-week session with the Medically Complex Telerehabilitation program (MCTelerehab) offered through VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS).

The first-in-VA pilot program began enrolling patients in January 2021 as an innovative way to meet Veterans’ physical therapy needs in the comfort and safety of their homes. Despite any barriers created by the pandemic, the MCTelerehab program bridges instant access to quality care designed to meet one’s individualized goals.

“Everything was geared toward me,” Jean-Baptiste said, who quickly learned her therapy team was not there to command exercises, but rather compassionately coach her. “‘Maggie, we are here to help you,’ they said. ‘We don’t want to push you past your capabilities. If you are in pain, stop … We want you to make SMART goals.’” SMART is an acronym for Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Time-Based.

It was this trust that made all the difference for Jean-Baptiste. “What I loved most about the program—as a Veteran who had been suffering from chronic pain, PTSD and anxiety—was that I trusted them.”

Feeling supported and empowered, Jean-Baptiste found herself smiling more and feeling better over the course of the MCTelerehab sessions. “After the first week, my mental health had improved. I didn’t realize how down I was, but I had relegated my chronic pain.” By keeping track of progress with her new Fitbit, she also saw her daily step count climb from 2,000 to 11,000.

The MCTelerehab program “helps Veterans get moving again and learn the skills to keep moving so they can enjoy life,” according to Dr. Jennifer Stevens-Lapsley, a researcher with ECHCS’ Geriatrics Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC), who launched the program with her team after receiving a grant from VA’s Office of Connected Care (OCC).

A Veteran explains his watercolor works
Maegan Olivos, PT, coaches Veteran Mary Walsh through exercises during a Medially Complex Telerehabilitation session, a first-in-VA pilot project.

“This multifaceted program addresses the functional and motivational needs of Veterans during the pandemic through their individual telerehabilitation and coaching sessions, as well as, providing camaraderie and social support from other Veterans,” said Maegan Olivos, PT, one of the clinic’s team members who specializes in geriatric physical therapy.

By using easy-to-use technology like VA Video Connect, the Annie app and partnering with existing VA programs like the MOVE! Weight Management Program, Veterans become empowered with tools and support to reach their healthy lifestyle goals while connecting three times a week with their providers.

But MCTelerehab takes telehealth a step further by utilizing tools patients may not have realized were already in reach. Along with VA-provided gear, the program enlists common household items such as a chair, a water bottle or a bag of rice as tools. “All of the exercises we are doing in our homes are with the things we already have,” Jean-Baptiste said, who found herself doing push-ups against her deep freezer and using a gallon of milk for weight resistance.

Through its versatile approach to behavior change, MCTelerehab offers “more levels of support than standard telerehabilitation,” Olivos said.

“It changes your mind about fitness and movement,” Jean-Baptiste said. “We make it seem hard. I don’t have an elliptical machine, weights or all those things.” By challenging her outlook on fitness and overall health, MCTelerehab has been simply life changing.

“One of the things the program showed me is that I can do it. The program was something I didn’t know I needed until I got into it. You guys saved my life.”

If you are a Veteran interested in learning more about the Medically Complex Telerehabilitation program and to see if the program would be a good fit for you, contact the team at michelle.rauzi@va.gov.

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