Health & Fitness

New rehab rooms offer style, quicker recovery

Patient Beverly Bridge, left, works with physical therapist Michael Wylie in 2016 at Stafholt Good Samaritan Center in Blaine.
Patient Beverly Bridge, left, works with physical therapist Michael Wylie in 2016 at Stafholt Good Samaritan Center in Blaine. For The Bellingham Herald

In Whatcom County, as in other parts of the country, more people recovering from a major surgery or injury have nicer and smarter places to recuperate.

Not only are new rehabilitation rooms more pleasant, they offer easy access to physical therapy equipment, homelike settings to relearn life skills, and coordinated care from doctors, nurses, and therapists. That’s a recipe for helping patients recover more quickly, so they return home sooner and in better condition.

Some contemporary rehab rooms are new parts of hospitals, such as 14 remodeled rooms at St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham.

New rehab rooms are also cropping up in assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities, including Stafholt Good Samaritan Center in Blaine.

“It’s basically staying in a really good hotel with nursing care,” says Laurie Hart, Stafholt’s marketing coordinator.


The blending of what’s called “post-acute care” into skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities has transformed health care over the past decade, according to the American Health Care Association.

Before, patients stayed in a hospital after life-saving surgery, major medical complications, or a serious accident. Today, more of those patients — often ones recuperating from strokes, brain damage, or fractures from falls — are staying in new rehab units where they receive the concentrated attention they need to return to normal life.

Part of the shift is explained by money. Many assisted-living and skilled-nursing locales have struggled financially to meet new Medicare requirements and price cuts. Changing some of their rooms to post-acute care has proven more successful, both for the patient and for the bottom line.


Stafholt Good Samaritan Society, with 72 beds and about 50 residents, started changing its 15 assisted-living rooms in its east wing into post-acute rehab rooms last year. So far, six of the units have been remodeled for post-acute care, with the other nine slated for renovation over the next few years.

These changes are designed to make residents and their family members feel more at ease.

Laurie Hart, Stafholt Good Samaritan Center

The halls of the east wing beckon visitors with new carpeting and freshly painted walls. The color palette is light and airy, a refreshing departure for skilled-nursing communities, which often have outdated décor and dark colors.

At Stafholt, the light-green walls make the space seem larger, and complements natural light from windows. Framed artwork by local artist James Williamson adorns the walls.

It’s not uncommon to see Annabel, the playful resident cat, meandering the halls in search of a human playmate.

The rooms are equipped with a flat-screen television, satellite programming, and wi-fi. You‘ll also find reclining chairs, a bistro table with chairs and air conditioning.

“These changes are designed to make residents and their family members feel more at ease,” Hart says.

The bistro table lets visitors sit and share a meal with residents in the privacy of their room. The reclining chairs are great for company who want to stay longer and for residents who are more comfortable sleeping in a seated position. Each room has a kitchenette with a sink and mini-fridge.

Beyond the creature comforts, the amenities can help residents get better. For example, a stroke patient might lose the ability to perform some basic functions, such as brewing coffee or washing dishes. The kitchenette enables a therapist to work with the patient to relearn such activities.

“The therapist can help them do those things they did before, right here in their own room,” Hart says.

A small set of stairs helps patients learn to walk again, and physical therapy rooms at Stafholt feature state-of-the-art equipment.

For Hart, the units reflect a new direction in health care, one that focuses more on the patient.

“The patient gets to choose,” she says. “We’re not trying to drive you. We do as much as we can to make you as comfortable as possible.”


At St. Joseph hospital, the inpatient rehab unit recently underwent a major facelift as the hospital transitioned 14 of its beds to post-acute care. The rehab unit was previously housed at St. Joseph’s south campus, at Ellis and Chestnut streets, but has moved to the main campus on Squalicum Parkway.

This comprehensive care plan helps patients recover quickly and get back to doing the things they love.

Robin Donaldson, St. Joseph hospital

Patient rooms in the rehab unit used to be shared, but are now private. They feature built-in benches that convert into a sleeping cot for overnight guests, bathrooms with spacious walk-in showers, lifts for patients who need help moving about, and a computer so staff can instantly access digital patient records.

About half of the unit’s patients are recovering from strokes and often must relearn basic tasks. That’s why the rooms have kitchenettes, so patients can practice home skills.

Along with top-end physical therapy equipment are other high-tech devices, including a glove that plays music, for hand therapy.

Patients have access to nurses and doctors, as well as psychologists who can address depression and adjustment issues, and access to physical, speech, and occupational therapists.

“This comprehensive care plan helps patients recover quickly and get back to doing the things they love,” says Robin Donaldson, unit manager.

As part of the recovery process, patients are taken on outings, such as grocery shopping and going to a coffee shop.

“It’s really about making them as independent and safe as possible,” Donaldson says. “It’s a really important piece of being successful in the community.”