St. Scholastica, LSC physical therapy clinics pair students with patients in needAt both free clinics, St. Scholastica physical therapy students are teamed with Lake Superior College physical therapy assistant students, seeing patients under faculty supervision.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Loretta Busch spoke hesitantly, almost turning her dream into a question.
“There’s so many areas in my life that I can’t do,” the gray-haired, 75-year-old Morgan Park resident said, an ever-present gentle smile lighting up her face. “I think if I can regain some access, I’ll feel more … I’ll feel more like me?”
Seated in a large classroom on the third floor of the College of St. Scholastica’s Science Building on Wednesday, Busch recently had finished a 45-minute session at its Physical Therapy Clinic. A stroke more than two years ago took away the retired music teacher’s ability to play the piano as well as her wide-ranging collection of native instruments.
After her stroke, Busch went through physical therapy at St. Luke’s hospital. When insurance coverage on her therapy ended, the therapist asked if she’d like to try the program at St. Scholastica. Because of the Affordable Care Act, more people such as Busch may turn to the program in coming years, according to its director, Denise Wise.
The act is expected to expand the number of people with health insurance, with the Obama administration predicting 7 million newly insured Americans by March 31. The essential benefits that must be part of the insurance plans include rehabilitative services, said Jenni Bowring-McDonough, spokeswoman for MNsure, Minnesota’s online insurance marketplace.
But Wise suspects many of the newly insured may choose so-called “brass” plans with low premiums but high deductibles, making it tough to get services fully covered at a low price.
“Yes, they can get insurance that’s going to be affordable,” Wise said. “But their co-pays might be so high that for them to receive treatment elsewhere would be cost-prohibitive.”
The clinic is offered Monday and Wednesday afternoons during the fall and spring semesters. A separate clinic with the same hours is provided at Lake Superior College.
At both clinics, St. Scholastica physical therapy students are teamed with Lake Superior College physical therapy assistant students, seeing patients such as Busch, under faculty supervision.
Lake Superior College opened the first clinic in the fall of 1999, and the St. Scholastica clinic followed in the fall of 2011. From the beginning, students from both programs worked together in the facility, said Jane Worley, who directs the Lake Superior College program.
Lake Superior College’s clinic was one of the first free clinics offered by a college program, said Worley, who has directed it for 17 years. The collaboration between two schools’ programs remains very unusual, she said.
Worley said she’s unsure what precise effect the Affordable Care Act might have on demand for the clinics’ services.
“It seems like everybody is on a ‘wait and see how it turns out,’ ” Worley said.
But both Worley and Wise are exploring possibly expanding clinic hours, perhaps to include a summer session. That would help patients who need longer-term help.
“Over the summer they tend to regress a little without the therapy,” Worley said.
It also would help the students because it’s becoming harder to find internships for them, Wise said. The reasons for that include increasing pressure on clinics to improve productivity.
“Students can be excellent contributors to clinical settings, but they don’t always count toward productivity,” Wise said.
Students from both programs will have good prospects once they get their diplomas. Students in the two-year program at Lake Superior College earn an associate of applied science degree. Twenty students are accepted each year, Worley said, and there’s a one-year wait to get into the program. But once they graduate, job openings are plentiful, she added.
St. Scholastica accepts 36 students each year for its three-year program, which requires a bachelor’s degree. For students seeking jobs after graduation, the placement rate is 100 percent, Wise said.
‘A really cool thing’
On Wednesday, Molly Smith of the Lake Superior College program was teamed with Alyssa Henkel from St. Scholastica. Smith, 24, of Elk River, Minn., said she was drawn to the program after seeing the impact physical therapy had on her grandfather’s life after he suffered a stroke.
“To see him go from being in a wheelchair to being able to walk, and how much independence that gave him, it’s just a really cool thing,” she said.
The impetus for Henkel, 24, of Stillwater, Minn., was more firsthand.
“I, as a child, got hurt a lot and had to go to physical therapy a lot,” she said.
She admired the physical therapists, and “how really motivating they were to get you better.”
Wilbert Williams, 59, said he thinks the students who work with him at the St. Scholastica clinic are “already ready” as therapists and assistants.
Williams, who suffered a stroke two years ago, was referred to the clinic by a doctor at Essentia Health and has been coming twice a week this fall. He likes that it’s closer to his Hermantown home than a downtown Duluth location. And although he has health insurance, he likes that he doesn’t have to worry about his therapy being limited by insurance requirements.
“I thank God for these guys; I appreciate them,” Williams said of the students. “It’s a win-win situation.”
In the open classroom, St. Scholastica student Allison Homan was coaching Busch in exercises, such as putting one foot in front of the other. Lake Superior College student Kenzie Hardin was close by, quick to offer Busch a helping hand.
Dalerie Lieberz, a St. Scholastica associate professor who supervises the clinic, was close by as well. Occasionally, she would quietly offer Homan words of advice. As the exercises became more rigorous — Busch was asked to hold one foot off the floor for 10 seconds — three pairs of hands almost touched her, ready to intervene if she started to lose her balance.
After she had her stroke, Busch said after her clinic session, she thought that once she left the hospital everything would be fine.
“And, lo and behold, everything wasn’t,” she said. “But it goes in degrees, and so I have to be patient and just wait.”
She’s waiting, but also doing everything she can to regain as much mobility as possible. That’s why she was glad to learn about the St. Scholastica clinic.
“I took advantage of that, and it’s been good,” Busch said. “It’s been good.”
To learn more
Contact the Lake Superior Physical Therapy Clinic at (218) 733-1093 or the College of St. Scholastica Physical Therapy Clinic at (218) 625-4897.