FORT MYERS, Florida – When Carl Johnson entered the Skilled Nursing Unit at Gulf Coast Medical Center with a foot injury, he had no idea what was deep– –Sea swimming, sheep herding, and volleyball would be part of his therapy.
“I got so involved with it that I almost forgot it was a virtual reality machine and I didn’t really do those things,” said Johnson. “The virtual reality equipment really made me move, stand up, and do exercises that I normally wouldn’t do. It was so much fun and I absolutely loved it. “
At the Skilled Nursing Unit on the Gulf Coast, Johnson is one of more than 100 patients who have been able to participate in the healthcare system’s new virtual reality technology.
Originally designed for COVID-19 patients in the hospital, the virtual reality units allow patients to virtually ride bikes, work in the garden and even play bingo while in a hospital room.
Two different types of virtual technology units are available in the Skilled Nursing Unit on the Gulf Coast. One is an OmniCycle, a therapeutic exercise cycle, and the other is a virtual reality machine, a device with a TV-like screen.
The technology has been shown to help with fall prevention and balance, pain management, better breathing, and better overall patient outcomes.
“For many of our COVID-19 patients, being isolated has been lonely and we wanted to do something to lift their spirits and help them recover. That’s how this program started, ”said Bethany Schroll, physical therapist in the Gulf Coast Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Unit. “We knew we had to get creative, so we explored virtual reality and got units that we could thoroughly disinfect and bring into the patient’s room. It made a huge difference in their physical and mental health. “
After the COVID-19 unit in the Skilled Nursing Unit on the Gulf Coast closed due to a lower number of COVID-19 patients in Lee Health’s hospitals, the team there began deploying virtual reality technology to its skilled care patients . For many of the seniors in the unit, it has helped them become more engaged in their physical therapy.
“We had a patient who refused to do any kind of physical therapy. After we got her to try out the virtual technology, she began to work virtually in the garden, bridging the gap between the virtual and physical worlds. After that, we got her to take part in physical therapy, which was very beneficial for her. Said Schroll. “Overall, this technology was just amazing and our patients loved it.”
The Gulf Coast received this gear in the fall of 2020 and there have been several virtual outdoor activities since then, including a trot on Turkey for Thanksgiving, where patients even received a medal for a top finisher.
Learn more about the Gulf Coast Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Unit at www.leehealth.org/our-services/skilled-nursing/skilled-nursing-unit-at-gulf-coast-medical-center.