Editor’s Note: The Memorial Rehabilitation Institute received an Honorable Mention from the 2019 Sherman Award for Excellence in Patient Engagement program for its Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program. Based at Memorial Regional Hospital South in Hollywood, Florida, the program provides opportunities for people with cognitive and physical impairment to begin or resume participation in athletic and recreational activities following rehabilitation. Memorial Regional was among a number of organizations recognized for their accomplishments during a ceremony at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Patient Safety Congress in Houston, Texas, on May 16, 2019.
For people who have had strokes, lost limbs or suffered spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries, getting back to participating in sports they love or in some cases discovering them for the first time has been a key factor in overcoming physical and/or cognitive impairment.
That’s what we’ve seen at the Memorial Rehabilitation Institute since creating our adaptive sports and recreation program in 2015. The program removes barriers and promotes engagement in free fitness and recreational activities, which has enabled more than 1,100 current and former patients have to go beyond what many assumed were permanent limitations after life-changing incidents.
The vision for the program originated within patient support groups, with input and advice from our Patient and Family Advisory Council. The Council recognized that once a patient’s rehabilitation was complete, many became depressed and isolated without the ongoing support from healthcare providers. The physical and emotional challenges of re-adapting to life with a disability were daunting for patients and families.
Leveraging Community Resources to Improve Public Health
We decided to utilize community communications, leverage local resources, and engage partner agencies to enhance the health and quality of life of those we served. What resulted was a comprehensive schedule of free adaptive events, talent shows and sports leagues that provide access to those who may have thought their days of participating in physical activities were over.
Cycling, scuba diving, basketball, water skiing, and sailing are just a few of the sports adapted to meet the needs of the physically and/or cognitively challenged. An ongoing partnership with the park system has created “Memorial Fitness Zones” that feature outdoor, handicap-accessible fitness systems, mountain bike trails and loaner hand cycles.
Additionally, we developed collaborative partnerships with existing sports programs, including the Fort Lauderdale Sharks wheelchair basketball team. Rechistened the Memorial Sharks and featuring new uniforms and wheelchairs better equipped for the sport, the team finished second in the nation in 2016. The following year, we added a pediatric co-ed wheelchair basketball team, which finished in the top 10 nationally in each of its first two seasons.
Team-oriented bowling was our next adaptive program, followed by an expansion of the scope of our offerings to include an art show, radio-controlled boating, beach swim days, sailing, and other social activities, including a talent showcase for singing, dancing and poetry.
‘Fitness Fridays’ offer people with physical challenges free access to Memorial’s Wellness Center, where members of the therapy staff guide participants through group exercises using adaptive equipment and techniques.
The feedback from patients and families has been overwhelmingly positive: newfound independence and friendships, increased motivation, improved outlook, enhanced self-esteem and reduced levels of stress, blood pressure and weight.
Grant funding helps pay for activities, equipment and sponsorships, as do fundraising efforts by rehab staff and program participants. A grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation underwrote the cost of three hand cycles and a bowl-a-thon has seen increases in the number of attendees and dollars raised in each of its four years. We also host an annual Adaptive Sports and Recreation Expo, which has led to an increase in the type and number of sports we can offer, while also engaging vendors, involving family and friends and garnering local press coverage.
Positively impacting the lives of patients and families, however, has been the program’s greatest impact. As one of the largest (by revenue) public healthcare systems in the nation, Memorial Healthcare System and the Memorial Rehabilitation Institute remain committed to population health. Adaptive sports and recreation, guided by staff, participants, and families, enables people with different disabilities to remain connected to the outdoors and healthy activities while enabling our rehab program at Memorial Regional Hospital South to continue to heal the body, mind and spirit of those we touch.