The Suffolk Center for Rehabilitation and healthcare proudly unveiled the latest piece of equipment in their physical therapy collection – a Rehab Car. According to Paul Konstam, administrator of the Suffolk Center, rehabilitation in a place like Long Island is different from rehabilitation in an urban setting. “The communities we serve are large, they are spread out and the public transportation available is geared more toward getting to and from New York City. But what about getting to and from the grocery store, the bank, the hairdresser, the dry cleaner, and all of the other services we use every day but rarely think about? To do things like that here in eastern Long Island, you are at a real disadvantage if you don’t have a car”, said Konstam.
Melissa Springer is an occupational therapist at Suffolk. “We work with people every day to help them regain their mobility and their ability to manage the tasks of daily living, but out here driving is very much a task of daily living for a lot of our rehab patients. But when we started looking into rehab cars, the most common solution was to put a car inside the therapy suite. Most of those cars don’t actually run. They are used only for helping people re-learn how to get in and out of a vehicle. But Paul wanted more. He wanted people to be able to drive themselves home after discharge.”
Said Konstam, “what good is being able to get in and out of your car if you haven’t driven in so long that your skills have eroded?” According to the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, many factors affect the driving ability of people as they age, including changes in hearing, motor skills, reaction time, and cognitive reaction time. “If you are away from driving for any length of time, no matter what your age, you can expect your skills to be a little rusty. They aren’t gone, but they need to be brought back to the highest level of efficiency. Even our very young patients who come in to rehab a knee for example, are hesitant to step hard on the brakes until they learn to trust their rehab” he added. “And what better way than by putting them behind the wheel? Our therapy car has dual braking and is fully functioning. And our patients really look forward to getting behind the wheel again. It gives them something else to strive for while they go through the therapy process, and a real sense of achievement when they finally pull out of the parking lot for a drive.”
So what’s next for the Suffolk Center? “Well”, said Paul, grinning. “We live on an island. Maybe a boat?”