Peoria is considered the prototypical American city, often serving as a test market because of its Midwestern culture and representative demographics. This “typicalness” has given rise to the immortal question: “Will it play in Peoria?” But Peoria is not that ordinary.
What most people don’t realize is that Peoria has a long history of world firsts in medicine, notes Rick Zehr, president of the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1950, arguably continues that practice and proves that Peoria is a player on the world’s outpatient rehabilitation stage as one of the most comprehensive therapy institutes in the country.
“Our mission is to improve function and quality of life,” Zehr states, adding that the mission is deliberately broad in order to encompass aspects beyond merely physical. Realizing that treatment can affect patients emotionally, financially, and psychologically, he explains that IPMR provides “a deep array of services” that include physical, occupational and speech therapy, vestibular (dizziness) rehabilitation, balance, orthopedic rehabilitation, aquatic therapy and cancer rehabilitation, plus massage and acupuncture.
It’s a Senior World
Setting a precedent as one of the first adult day programs in Illinois, IPMR’s Senior World offers a secure setting for activities designed to stimulate cognitive areas of the brain to keep it active, nutritious meals, counseling, physical assistance, emotional support, therapeutic stimulation, health monitoring and opportunities for socialization, which is especially important for seniors who have become isolated.
By providing socialization through fun activities such as Wii bowling, billiards, art, pet and music therapy, and bingo, Senior World’s programs allow many who don’t need continuous nursing care to remain at home longer — and give caretakers a bit of a break. “We recognize the struggle caregivers go through,” Zehr says.
A cancer survivor himself, Dave Hinrichsen says the toughest challenge he has ever faced however has been his wife’s early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Her separation anxiety made it difficult for him to get things done and prevented her from enjoying life. Now that she spends four days a week at Senior World for about five hours a day, he has time to maintain their home and is able to continue tutoring second graders.
While Bonnie remains his first concern, Hinrichsen confesses that her time at Senior World is his respite. “It’s a great place for both of us. In the morning Bonnie may have anxiety or be irritable, but when we arrive [at Senior World], she is happy,” he says, “and when I pick her up, she’s on Cloud Nine; she’s laughing. It’s a nice place to go that keeps her active and happy. It’s a big part of her quality of life.”
Hinrichsen says his wife enjoys diverse activities such as arts and crafts, singing, puzzles and Bible study, but credits the upbeat, inviting atmosphere and the “marvelous staff [who] go the extra mile as a regular part of their day” for Bonnie’s fulfilment.
“Our amazing staff is super passionate,” Zehr summarizes.
“Whatever they do brings out the best in her,” Hinrichsen marvels. “That’s the bottom line. Her welfare is paramount.”
Putting the Patient First
Every patient’s welfare is paramount at IPMR. “We establish relationships with our patients,” Zehr explains. That’s a tall order for 150 employees who treat 500-600 new patients a month, but under Zehr’s leadership, they incorporate an effective team approach by staffing as a group.
Their board-certified physicians practice at local and regional hospitals and hold clinic office days at IPMR locations in the tri-county area. Physicians, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, physician assistants, nurses, and other staff are provided with continuing education to keep them at the forefront of their practices.
Their unmatched commitment to deliver unsurpassed care is revealed by positive outcomes, happy patients and a significant number of referrals. Zehr says even the Mayo Clinic has referred patients to them. “We get referrals because we’re unique and have good outcomes.”
Their reputation is so solid that when Ricky Kingdon’s doctor asked where she wanted to go for physical therapy after suffering from a form of vertigo, she chose IPMR. But she based her choice on a more personal referral. “My husband Steve went there after having his knee replaced; he had a good experience.”
She did too. Ryan Fairchild assessed her to determine the problem. “He was good at explaining what he was doing, what he was looking for. He had a rationale for everything he did,” Kingdon explains.
Fairchild gave a technical explanation to a student who sat in, but didn’t leave Kingdon out of the conversation. “He didn’t try to impress me with his expertise, but it was clear he knew what he was doing. He was very down to earth — relatable, compassionate.”
Fairchild demonstrated some exercises to help her brain and ears “communicate” and improve her balance. “He showed me, then he did the exercises with me and told me what to do at home for my eyes and brain to learn to coordinate,” she says.
Before she went to IPMR, Kingdon says that any movement made her dizzy. “My head would swim.” The day after she was given an exercise regimen, her symptoms were almost completely gone. “It was incredible. Within 24 hours, the problem was gone — and it has not been back since.”
Within 2-3 days, she was working in the yard again. “I haven’t had [the problem] again, but if it comes back, I know what to do,” she indicates. “I’ve been empowered to handle it.”
STAR Lights the Way
Getting patients back to work was the genesis for IPMR when it was founded in conjunction with Caterpillar’s Return-to-Work Program for injured World War II veterans and polio patients. Their STAR oncology rehabilitation program continues that objective.
The STAR (Survivorship Training and Rehab) Program Certification was developed by Dr. Julie Silver, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a cancer survivor. Its purpose is to deliver oncology rehabilitation care through proven programs.
IPMR has the largest, most comprehensive STAR program in Illinois, with 25 certified STAR clinicians. “We presented at the first oncology rehab course approved by Harvard,” Zehr says proudly, adding that their program has been recognized by STAR leadership at Harvard.
Hoping to use the program to “strengthen to where I used to be,” three-year breast cancer survivor Susie Brown says she thought weight strength training was all she was getting, but “I got so much more.”
Brown suffers from edema due to a break in the lymphatic system, which caused swelling in her left arm, breast and hand. She also has neurological issues exacerbated by chemotherapy. The STAR program allows her to work on issues without harming herself.
The strength training has also improved her balance, which was compromised by the neuropathy that ensued from chemotherapy. “It’s hard when you can’t feel your feet,” Brown explains. “I have no feeling in my hands or feet, so I fall a lot. I’m clumsy. Occupational therapy strengthens my hands and teaches me to compensate.”
Going to IPMR two or three days a week, Brown not only does the Pink Pumpers circuit for strength training, she also used a grant and scholarships, funded by the Rehabilitation Foundation of IPMR, to attend seven months of nutrition counseling to help battle weight gain. “Exercise and weight maintenance are important to keep the cancer from recurring, but I was struggling to lose the weight I’d gained during cancer treatment.” So far, she has lost 23 lbs.
Tailored for her specific needs, the STAR program has provided Brown with balance therapy, acupuncture and counseling. She claims she has “reversed and stabilized” many of her ailments. Just as importantly, the program boosted her self-esteem. “I don’t feel like a cancer patient when I’m there; I feel like someone. IPMR gives you a purpose and a place that acknowledges you’re a person.”
Before IPMR, she says, “I was headed in the wrong direction.” Explaining that she “struggled in the dark for two years before I went there,” the 52-year-old says the program makes her feel accepted and loved. “It’s such a positive atmosphere, and that is huge while you’re trying to heal.”
What differentiates IPMR is its family atmosphere, Zehr believes. “We provide comprehensive care that doesn’t feel like you’re in a medical facility.”
Brown agrees. “It feels like you’re at the gym or a fitness club. The people are joyful and nurturing; it’s not just their job, it’s genuine. They make me feel like part of a family.” She says it’s “almost like a support group” and that little kindnesses mean so much — and the friendships she’s made there “mean everything. There are a lot of treasures to be found there.”
Acknowledging the importance of “doing something positive for yourself,” Brown has become passionate about rehab — and IPMR. “I had no idea I’d find help like that.”
Gratified to hear the feedback, Zehr says, “The things we do are cutting-edge, but the most important thing is that each patient gets what they need.” He speculates that it could be the reason their referral rate is higher than that of other providers.
“Why not Peoria?” Zehr conjectures. In the old vaudeville days, Peoria was a proving ground for a show’s success. Since 1950, Peoria’s IPMR has been demonstrating its success every day.
IPMR, founded in 1950, has grown into one of the most comprehensive therapy institutes in the United States. With over 18 service locations throughout central Illinois, IPMR continues to grow and expand its services as an independent nonprofit organization. IPMR is a CARF-accredited, nonprofit rehabilitation center.
For more information on IPMR’s programs or to schedule an appointment, call 800-957-IPMR or 309-692-8670. Visit online at impr.org.