New Inpatient Rehab Unit at EAMC-Lanier

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On Oct. 1, EAMC-Lanier in Valley opened an acute inpatient rehabilitation unit inside the hospital. This unit, the first of its kind in the area, provides specialized rehabilitation for patients in the hospital who are not yet able to transition to a skilled nursing facility, nursing home, or to return to their homes.

The 17-bed unit includes private rooms overlooking the Chattahoochee River, a dining area, and a rehab gym where patients participate in a minimum of three hours of specialized rehab each day they are in the unit. Greg Nichols, EAMC-Lanier administrator explains that this unit was opened based on the needs of the community. “We opened an inpatient rehab unit because there was nothing like this available for the community and surrounding counties,” Nichols states. “The nearest rehab facility before ours opened was in Phenix City—that’s a long drive for people who live in this area, and for their families and loved ones to visit them. Our unit is also convenient for patients who are in Opelika.”

Frederick Aziz, M.D., is a board certified physiatrist and serves as the medical director of the unit. Prior to joining EAMC-Lanier, he was employed with Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System in Tuskegee, Ala. A physiatrist, or physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, treats a wide variety of medical conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.  Dr. Aziz completed his residency in rehabilitation medicine in New York and his fellowship in polytrauma/brain Injury at McGuire Hunter Holmes Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va.

“We are excited to have Dr. Aziz,” Eve Milner, vice president of Clinical Services says. “He brings a wealth of knowledge about inpatient rehab and will oversee the therapy of each patient, while also working with any other medical conditions they have. So far, we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. It’s very convenient for people in this area and we’ve even had many self-referrals, which is great because it illustrates how excited patients are that this service is now being offered.”

The rehab gym, located in close proximity to the unit, includes a fully functional kitchen, restroom with a bath tub, bedroom, washer and dryer. “Part of rehabilitation is ensuring that each patient is capable of doing everything in their home that they were able and responsible for doing before they came to us,” Milner says. “We want our patients to be able to maintain their prior level of function before they were injured or hospitalized. The kitchen is also great because they get to cook things like muffins and cookies, and that’s very enjoyable for the patients.”

Dr. Aziz explains that his role as the physiatrist in the rehab unit involves a multi-faceted approach to improving function and quality of life for patients. “Rehab medicine involves returning patients to their prior function,” Dr. Aziz says. “While a physical therapist or occupational therapist is administering specific types of therapy, I am assessing patients overall and developing the best plan of care in order to accommodate for their specific medical conditions and allow them to rehab and heal as quickly as possible. I also work with social workers to ensure quality of life once the patient is discharged.

“One benefit of acute inpatient rehab is the stringent therapy schedule,” Dr. Aziz says. “While a nursing home or skilled nursing facility might only provide an hour of therapy a day, acute inpatient rehab administers three hours or more every day. For patients who are not healed or ready to transition out of the hospital, this allows them to begin the healing process. Another great benefit of our program is that it is located within the hospital. There is 24/7 rehab nursing care available, and there is always medical personnel and emergent care close by, which is a great comfort to patients and their families.”

Matt Kellum, physical therapist, administers physical therapy to patients in the rehab gym. The gym is equipped with standing frames, low mat tables, exercise equipment, weights and other equipment to aid in the rehabilitation of patients. “We primarily see neurologically involved patients, orthopaedic and some cardiac patients as well,” Kellum notes. “Our unit offers rehabilitation for patients not quite ready to go home yet. Our goal is to get them back to their normal day-to-day activity before they go home. We often work on walking and lower back strengthening. The primary goal from a rehab standpoint is to strengthen and to increase a patient’s mobility.”

Keri Smith is the occupational therapist on site and she works with patients to simulate daily activities that they will need to accomplish when they are discharged from the hospital. This includes preparing meals, standing at the sink, getting items in and out of the refrigerator, using the restroom, and taking a shower.  She also works with patients who have never had to manage a walker or other similar equipment. Each patient is different, but with all of the resources available in the rehab gym, the staff is able to customize therapy to meet their needs.

“We’re thrilled about the opening of this unit,” Milner says. “Instead of transferring patients out of our hospital for these services, now we have become a referral source for other hospitals for inpatient rehab. This service provides a much-needed resource, and local patients no longer have to look outside of our county for treatment. The staff is enthusiastic and roughly half of the nurses on the unit transferred from other departments within the hospital because they are excited to be a part of this program.”

Frederick Aziz, M.D.

Frederick Aziz, M.D.

Frederick Aziz, M.D. earned his medical degree from St. George’s School of Medicine in Grenada, West Indies. Following medical school, he completed an internship in general surgical medicine at Montefiore Medical Center North Division in New York, and his rehabilitation residency at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center also in New York. He completed a fellowship in polytrauma/brain injury at McGuire Hunter Holmes Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va.

He is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Dr. Aziz is originally from New York and earned his undergraduate degree in biology at Queens College in Flushing, N.Y. Prior to joining EAMC-Lanier, he was employed with Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System in Tuskegee, Ala. He is also currently a preceptor at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Auburn. Dr. Aziz and his wife, Kristine, have three sons: twins, Alfred and Christian; and Benjamin.

Dr. Aziz practices at EAMC-Lanier in the Inpatient Rehab Unit. For more information, please call 334-756-9180.