Using Mobility to Help ICU Patients Recover

PLAINS TOWNSHIP -- A hospital's ICU, or intensive care unit, is where the sickest patients are treated.

Many of them are the very patients that need to be moving, according to a doctor with the Geisinger Health System.

About a year and a half ago, he put together a team to increase early mobility in the ICU.

Marge Polimeno's trip to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center near Wilkes-Barre was unexpected a few weeks ago. The 76 year old only had a nagging sore throat.

"About a week after, I got up one morning and my throat felt all slushy. I couldn't swallow right," said Polimeno of Kelayres.

She debated what to do. Since she wasn't in awful pain, but decided because she's diabetic she should drive herself to a hospital in Hazleton to be checked out. She remembers what a worker there told her after a CT scan.

"He says, 'Lady, you're in trouble.'"

Marge had an infection that almost closed her throat.

Next thing she knows, it was two days later, she'd been flown by helicopter to the intensive care unit at Geisinger Wyoming Valley.

Not long after, the mobility team at Geisinger was helping Marge walk around the ICU.

"This one fella came in. He said, 'You want to try and walk around?' I said sure. I felt good, ready to go."

Dr. Alvin Sharma is director of critical care medicine and pulmonary medicine at Geisinger Wyoming Valley.

He says since January of 2016, staff here have been trying to get even some of their most critical patients moving as soon as possible. He says they've noticed definite improvement in outcomes.

"What we found is that by effectively moving patients in the ICU, we got them off ventilators faster, out of ICU faster, and there's a cost savings also," said Dr. Sharma.

The mobility team is made up of a doctor, several nurses, a respiratory therapist to handle the ventilator, and a physical therapist to handle movement.

Marge could walk, but Dr. Sharma says the term mobility is broadly defined, depending on how much the patient can do.

"They either sit them up, dangle their feet at the side of the bed, stand, pivot, or walk. Whatever the patient can or cannot do, any mobility will help the patient in the long run improve their strength," said Dr. Sharma.

Marge got to come back and say hello to the team that helped her get back on her feet.

Dr. Sharma says she's is an example of how the mobility team is helping. She was allowed to go home a few days later, right from the ICU.

Based on that data collected at Geisinger Wyoming Valley, Dr. Sharma has written papers on this topic and recently presented his findings at an international conference.

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