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Physical Therapy Alumnae Create Innovative Program to Get ICU Patients Moving

By Jenna Pizzi


Two University of the Sciences graduates have challenged the status quo in an effort to hasten rehabilitation for patients in the ICU at Pennsylvania Hospital where they work as physical therapists.

Christine Huntzinger MPT’02, DPT, and Anastasiya “Stacy” Ruiz MPT’07 initiated and developed the ICU mobility project at Pennsylvania Hospital, which works to start physical therapy with patients as early as possible, even if they are still on a ventilator.

“There has been so much evidence supporting early mobilization in the critical care setting in recent years,”

said Dr. Huntzinger. “We recognized that we needed to stay current with our clinical practice to help our patients have the best outcomes.”

Beginning in November 2013, the alumnae worked with the ICU nurses to start doing physical therapy exercises with patients who had suffered respiratory failure and were on ventilators or just coming out of sedation. After a trial period was successful, the program was implemented full-time.

“At the beginning it can start off slow,” said Dr. Huntzinger. “Some basic goals of these first few sessions might be for the patient to consistently follow commands or tolerate an upright sitting position for one hour.”

As a result, the patients treated in this program have a shorter length of stay in the hospital, Dr. Huntzinger and Ruiz found.

Dr. Huntzinger said her USciences education taught her the importance

of mobility, which is the basis of her career. From that knowledge, she said she has been able to continue learning and evolving as new research emerges.

RuizThe key to the success of this mobility program is recognizing the value of interdisciplinary care, said Dr. Huntzinger and Ruiz. By working with the nurses and doctors in the team, they said they were able to create a new successful team protocol and change the perception of the staff about the benefits of getting their patients moving.

“Change is hard, but we were lucky to have dedicated staff willing to work hard at changing the culture,” said Dr. Huntzinger.

The program will expand to a 16-bed step down unit in May 2017, and the team is working closely with nursing education to encourage the role of nurses in regularly mobilizing even the sickest patients prior to PT evaluation.

“I hope to see this initiative become the new norm for patient care in all areas of the hospital, not just critical care,” said Dr. Huntzinger. “The ultimate goal is for it to become a part of everyone’s day-to-day routine.”

Categories: Profiles, Samson College, Department of Physical Therapy, Physical Therapy, Student Profile, Alumni