Published on May 05, 2021

Essentia Health offers new COVID-rehab program - Brainerd Lakes

Minnesota man benefits from program’s comprehensive and customized care plan

Essentia Health has launched a new program for those suffering long-term effects from a COVID-19 illness. The Post COVID-19 Rehabilitation Program is for patients recovering from COVID and offered at all Essentia locations.

“The program highlights the importance of understanding the quality of life the patient had prior to becoming sick and setting that as a baseline to strive to get the patient back to,” explains Troy Schmitz, an outpatient rehabilitation services manager at Essentia.

The multidisciplinary approach looks different for each patient and is a mix of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Therapists use objective and measurable tests to show the progress the patient is making. Patients within this program range from those who were sick with COVID but recovered at home to those who were critically ill and hospitalized.

“In addition, we can also refer patients to other providers who may be able to provide additional treatment, such as ear, nose and throat specialists or behavioral health experts,” says Schmitz. “At Essentia, we are always looking for opportunities to make a healthy difference in people’s lives in the communities we serve, and this program helps us reach this unique group of COVID-19 survivors who have lingering side effects that are affecting their quality of life.”

To schedule an appointment with our therapy team, please call (218) 828-7375. For more information, contact Essentia’s rehabilitation services director, Joan Jeanetta, at (218) 786-5366 or Joan.Jeanetta@essentiahealth.org.

This program has been especially beneficial for Schmitz’s grandfather, Ray Schmitz, an 87-year-old Perham, Minn., man diagnosed with COVID-19 who experienced a lengthy hospital stay while sick.

In October 2020, Ray was working on end-of-the-season yard work and at one point stopped and realized he just couldn’t physically keep going. Later, when he tried to get up off the couch, he couldn’t stand up. After trying a few times with the help of a walker and no success, Ray and his wife of nearly 67 years, Jean, knew something serious was going on.

Admitted to the hospital, Ray was treated for COVID-19. Just a day later, Jean was also admitted to the hospital for a COVID infection.
For Jean, a brief hospital stay and recovery at her son and daughter-in-law’s home is the extent of her story. She was able to return home and is doing well. However, Ray’s story continues. Ray was transported to a higher level of care and spent about 100 days in the hospital, including about half that time on a ventilator. Those were grim days for the Schmitz family, and at one point they were told it was not looking favorable. However, Ray had other things in mind, coming back from near-death illness.

An avid hunter, spear fisherman and outdoorsman, Ray was looking forward to fall and winter, which is his favorite time of the year. Family hunting trips were noticeably missing Ray; but family members wrote Ray’s name on arrows and bullets as a loving way to include him in the hunt.

While doctors and nurses worked with Ray to recover from the infection and make sure his lungs, kidneys, heart and other organs were functioning, his muscles and strength deteriorated. Once he was medically well enough to leave the hospital, Ray was transferred to Essentia Health-Oak Crossing in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and the transitional care unit to begin a rehab program to rebuild his strength, muscle tone and regain the use of his right arm, in which the mobility was lost at some point in his hospitalization. When Ray arrived at Oak Crossing, he was unable to do anything for himself, even the simplest tasks.

The Post COVID-19 Rehabilitation Program at Essentia Health is helping Ray get back to the quality of life he enjoyed before COVID.
For Ray, he can’t say enough good about his care and therapy at Oak Crossing. “The care here is second to none,” Ray shares. “The people are just amazing.” The road has been long for Ray. He’s hit the six-month mark since first becoming sick and he’s not ready to go home yet. He’s had to start over and relearn basic life skills like walking, going to the bathroom, standing and using his left hand until his right arm is stronger and capable of performing fine motor-skill activities like writing and eating.

His therapy continues with a variety of activities each day in the hopes that he’ll get back to where he was physically before he got sick. “I really want to get back home and be at our home a bit longer,” Ray said. “I want to be able to fish and hunt again, but we’ll see what happens.” Each day he works to build upon the previous day’s successes. “Some days they work me pretty hard, but I want to get back to my old self, so that’s OK with me,” shares Ray.

Looking ahead, once Ray leaves the transitional care unit, he’ll continue with outpatient therapy to finish his rehabilitation program. While both Ray and Jean know they’ll need to make some adjustments to their lifestyle and living arrangements, they are thankful and appreciative of how far Ray has come.

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