Rehabilitating patients during a global pandemic
Physical therapy is all about helping patients relearn movement. But during a global pandemic, movement is one of the many things under restriction. Gyms and other workout areas are closed, walking areas are heavily restricted, and even helping patients ambulate down a clinic hallway is off the table.
Fortunately, physical therapy patients across the country have dedicated physical therapist assistants actively searching for ways to accomplish their goals safely—physical therapist assistants like Skylar Gaillard.
For Skylar, the challenge is doubled… not only is he responsible for finding safe ways to help patients meet their physical therapy goals within the coronavirus guidelines, but he also fills the role of Director of Rehabilitation. With this combination, Skylar faces the challenges of COVID-19 on both the administrative and the therapeutic side.
Despite the many challenges on both sides, Skylar continues to excel in both his roles, serving his patients however he can, and this is just one of many reasons we’ve selected Skyler Gaillard as one of our honored Heroes in Healthcare.
Director of Rehabilitation / Physical Therapist Assistant in Murray, UT
2017 Graduate – Provo College
What are the typical responsibilities for someone in your position?
As the Director of Rehabilitation, I am responsible for communicating with the therapy team. I take care of scheduling and other fun managerial duties such as paid time off, documentation audits, and much more.
As a physical therapist assistant, I work closely with the physical therapist in my facility to provide great care for our residents in order to help them reach their goals.
With our short-term patients, we focus on helping them return function as quickly as possible. We focus on balance, stairs, and gait training so that they have the best outcomes when they do return home. We also have a very large long-term caseload in our facility.
Transfers are one of our top goals as well, so we can help decrease caregiver assistance and help our patients maintain as much independence as possible. We also help many patients reach a level of movement where we can safely discharge them to an assisted living facility.
And finally, we also work on balance with our patients in order to decrease fall risks.
I chose this career because I wanted to help people. I love seeing people work hard and progress towards their goals of becoming more functionally independent. I have family and friends that also work in this field, and they inspired me to do my part and help as many lives as I possibly can.
With that in mind, what does a typical day look like for you?
Typically, the first thing I do in the morning is double check the schedule to make sure my patients have adequate minutes each day for therapy and that patients are marked on therapist’s schedules so that treatments can be most efficiently planned.
After everyone’s schedules are finalized, I begin making my rounds with patients. I work with CNA’s and nurses to transfer patients that need a little bit more assistance and instruction, and I also work with the RNA staff so that they are performing appropriate exercises.
Through it all, I try and do point-of-service documentation with each visit so that I don’t have a pile of paperwork due at the end of the day.
I appreciate the sense of fulfillment that it gives me every day. Yes, there are struggles, but it never outweighs the joy that I feel watching my patients reach goals that they never thought they would achieve.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed that routine?
The pandemic has absolutely affected the way I work. I don’t think that there is a single person that has not been affected in some form or another.
Currently we are on room treatments only, so patients aren’t allowed to come to the therapy gym. In order to work around this, we wheel our Omnicycle around to our patients, making sure that we sterilize it with bleach wipes after each treatment session.
Any other equipment that we take (such as ankle weights, dumbbells, TheraBand, and balance equipment) are sanitized after each treatment as well or specified for each individual patient and left within their room.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
The most challenging aspect has been not being able to ambulate with patients down the hallways. Gait training is vital for so many patients. It helps them regain or maintain their independence, and it helps them reach their ultimate goals.
Not being able to do that has forced me to become more creative in my treatments. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it to ensure my patients are receiving the best care they possibly can.
Where do you find the inspiration to endure this difficult period?
To be honest, some days it can be difficult to find the inspiration to keep going.
However, when I begin working with my patients and I can see the hope in their eyes and the determination in their faces, that gives me the strength that I need to continue working.
In the end, I’m not working in this field for me, I am doing it for them. They more than deserve that I give them my best, and that is what keeps me coming in every single day ready, regardless of the challenges.
The stress must be overwhelming at times. How do you find balance? What do you do to maintain your composure during stressful moments at work?
Sometimes I have to step outside and just take a couple of deep breaths in the middle of the day.
I find these small moments allow me to clear my head. Then I can go back in and continue working with a renewed purpose.
I also try and do something for myself every day when I get home. Whether it’s giving myself some time to relax, letting myself have a snack, or just talking with my closest loved ones. I find that it helps me maintain my mental balance.
Any words of advice or inspiration you’d like to share with other healthcare workers who may be coping with similar challenges?
Just keep pushing forward. Yes, things are extremely hard right now. We are having to take extra measures and precautions and it can be aggravating. But this all will pass. One day this will all be over, life will return to normal, and we can move on.
Just don’t ever forget the real reason you got into this field. We care.
We care about helping the people around us. We want to see the growth and progression these patients can achieve with our help. They depend on us and we need to continue being a light in their lives.
There are thousands of men and women still studying to become nurses while watching all of this unfold. What would you say to them to help encourage them to continue?
These are scary times, but you chose this path for a reason. You wouldn’t be going through school learning how to care for others if you didn’t genuinely want to help people. Never forget that.
Clinical rotations might get canceled, but schools will work around that (and other challenges) and will do their best to get you the best education they possibly can. They want you to succeed!
Also, if you’re worried about getting a job after graduation, we are considered essential workers. There will always be a need for what we do.
You are going to make some incredible friendships and connections working in this field. Bonds that will never be broken, no matter how far apart physically you become. There are patients that you are going to meet and work with that will change your life forever. Some of the best experiences you will ever have, will come from your job in this field.
Don’t give up!
What about our non-medical readers? Any words of advice for them?
Yes! Please listen to medical experts right now! They say what they say because they have evidence to back it up.
I know that it’s hard to not go shopping and to stay at home, but it truly is for the best! It’s frustrating when vacations, concerts, sports, and so many other things get canceled. But this is about what’s best for everyone.
It helps to keep that in perspective: this isn’t about you. This is about those around you that are most at risk. We need to be more compassionate and caring than ever in these hard times.
Thank you to Skylar for sharing his valuable perspective on the challenges physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and program directors are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether scheduling appointments or working directly with patients, it’s encouraging to know that the healthcare workers and administrators on the frontlines continue to have their patients’ best interests as their motivation.
We’re proud of you, Skylar! Keep up the good work!