With its designation as a model spinal cord injury system – and the launching of one new research center and the expansion of another – National Rehabilitation Hospital is securing its position on the leading edge of rehabilitation research. With a diverse portfolio of investigations and a cadre of some of the country’s most respected rehabilitation experts, NRH’s Christoph Ruesch Research Center is blazing critical trails aimed at improving the lives of millions of people with disabilities.
The recent burst of new activity began late last year when the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) named NRH one of only 14 model spinal cord injury (SCI) programs nationwide. The highly competitive five-year grant established the National Capital Spinal Cord Injury Model System (NCSCIMS) at NRH. The NCSCIMS is partnering with the Washington Hospital Center to streamline state-of-the-art services and establish a model continuum of care from emergency response to independent living for the Washington region’s SCI population.
“Our patients often experience discrepancies in health care delivery, and this lack of access to care, equipment, and/or services can be devastating,” Dr. Suzanne Groah, NCSCIMS project director, explains. “It can cause the onset of complications that impede transition to the community and work.”
To help improve the quality of life for those with SCI, the NCSCIMS is focusing on secondary conditions – specifically pressure ulcers. A practice-based evidence study is evaluating standard methods used to prevent pressure ulcers, in order to develop new and more effective strategies. A demonstration SCI Patient Navigator study is helping people with newly acquired SCI “navigate” the complex health care system during the first year post-injury, and a knowledge translation program is transforming research results into real behavior change in patients and health care providers.
Also this past year, a brand new research center was launched, representing NRH’s longstanding commitment as an advocate for effective health care policy. Under the direction of Dr. Gerben DeJong, the Center for Post-acute Studies (CPS) is responding to the rapid growth and changes in post-acute care. Today, nearly one-third of all patients discharged from acute care rehabilitation facilities will receive post-acute care in a rehabilitation hospital, a skilled nursing facility, in a day treatment center or at home.
“Post-acute care has been one of the fastest growing segments of American health care, but research capacity in this area has not kept pace,” says DeJong. “There is a real need for research leadership in this area to improve clinical practice and to make post-acute care more responsive to the growing needs of an aging population,” he adds.
CPS is currently involved in eight ongoing research projects that have received funding from both public and private organizations. One such project, the JOINTS study, is helping to identify the types of joint-replacement patients that are best served in each type of post-acute facility.
NRH also recently received renewed funding in the form of a two-year grant that ensures the continuation and expansion of the Assistive Technology & Research Center (ATRC). The ATRC, established in 1994, is a leading exponent of innovative technology to foster independent living among those with disabilities.
This most recent grant will support four new projects including an investigation to assess and develop Activity-Based Rehabilitation (ABR) in spinal cord injury, another to enhance gait training for people with SCI and an innovative study that is evaluating the use of the Manus robot to improve prosthetic use in people with upper arm amputation.
“All of these initiatives demonstrate the valuable role NRH plays in improving the care we deliver our patients, as well as our leadership in improving the practice of rehabilitative medicine,” adds Dr. Edward Healton, NRH Medical Director and Director of the NRH Research Center.