Overcoming Barriers in Pediatric Rehabilitation

Overcoming Barriers in Pediatric Rehabilitation
Program aims to reduce gaps in access to services.

Acute shortages in pediatric rehabilitation specialists and pediatric rehabilitation hospitals – plus uneven insurance coverage – have left many children underserved.

A team at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is working to design rehabilitation programs and services that address these gaps while “letting kids be kids,” said Elizabeth Martin, M.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Children’s Hospital.

“Children’s lives, and the lives of their families, are suddenly and dramatically changed after acute trauma or life-threatening disease,” Martin said. “In the hospital, you have doctors, nurses and therapists helping you do things, but when you go home to continue your recovery and are suddenly on your own, it can be overwhelming.”

“When you go home to continue your recovery and are suddenly on your own, it can be overwhelming.”

Child-focused Inpatient Services

Currently, Tennessee has no inpatient pediatric rehabilitation facilities, which puts a huge burden on parents whose children must go out of state to receive inpatient care. Martin hopes to change that.

The pediatric rehabilitation team is using resources at Vanderbilt to find innovative ways to deliver care. Through Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital (Vanderbilt’s adult inpatient facility, which has accommodated teen patients) and Vanderbilt Home Health services, Martin and colleagues have been ramping up intensive pediatric home health therapy for kids who cannot get inpatient care.

“We have incredible teams of therapists and rehabilitation specialists who have been stepping up to make sure kids in Tennessee get the rehabilitation support they need,” Martin said.

Specialized Programs and Clinics

Martin oversees existing inpatient and outpatient programs and is developing new programs and clinics designed specifically for young patients. Each program offers highly specialized services that bring together physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers, and psychologists in a multidisciplinary team. The team recently added clinics serving children with cerebral palsy and other developmental conditions, brain injury and spinal cord injury, and is continuing to build its adaptive sports programs.

“It is fantastic to see the response to programs like Tri My Best Triathlon,” Martin said. “The kids and families have such an incredible time and look forward to it all year.”

Easy Access to Care

To make access more convenient, rehabilitation services are provided at various Nashville-area locations, including Children’s Hospital, Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks, Vanderbilt Home Health Services, and the Susan Gray School at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Campus.

“We have to make it accessible as we continue to support [our patients], whether that’s through a rehabilitation hospital stay, receiving therapies at home, following up in the clinic, or getting them back into school and sports,” Martin said.