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WellSpan rehab program helps patients get back to work, and to life

August 11, 2022

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Petey Bender returned to her National Park Service job (above and in left photo, below), where she works on a statue on the Gettysburg Battlefield, after undergoing a WellSpan rehabilitation program. Josh LaBure (left, in right photo), of Adams County, does exercises to help prepare him to return to his job as a delivery driver, with therapist Rick Pickett.

Petey Bender returned to her National Park Service job (above and in left photo, below), where she works on a statue on the Gettysburg Battlefield, after undergoing a WellSpan rehabilitation program. Josh LaBure (left, in right photo), of Adams County, does exercises to help prepare him to return to his job as a delivery driver, with therapist Rick Pickett.

What if you were badly hurt in an accident, suffering broken bones, multiple internal injuries, and a concussion that left you unable to work? 

What if you had access to a rehabilitation team that carefully examined your job, and then designed an individualized therapy program that helped you to regain the particular skills you needed to return to work at a job you love and have done for decades? 

All of that happened to Petey Bender over the past year. 

A car slammed into a bucket truck where the 58-year-old Gettysburg resident was perched, catapulting her to the ground at a South Carolina job site. The accident wrenched her from her life, including her physically demanding job as a mason for the National Park Service, her duties with the National Guard, and her active lifestyle that included motocross racing, waterskiing, running, and other outdoor pursuits. 

The WellSpan Rehabilitation work conditioning program mended and rebuilt her with seven months of targeted therapy, helping her “get back to being Petey again,” as she says. 

Three days after she graduated from the program, Petey climbed a 30-foot scaffolding, pulled stone up onto a historic building, walked across a roof, and helped to fix a chimney. 

“Don’t tell my mother!” she says, with a delighted laugh. “It was exciting. I was SO glad to be there. I got back on my bike and raced too. I was a little scared at first, but I did it. I missed my life!” 

WellSpan offers several programs to help people return to work after injuries or illness. The work conditioning program that Petey completed focuses on physical skills. WellSpan also offers a work hardening program, which includes behavioral health services, and a neuro work hardening program, which offers services particularly for people with head injuries. Together, the three programs annually treat about 60 patients, helping them to regain their physical and emotional wellbeing so they can return to their jobs. 

Working with employers, WellSpan physical, occupational, speech, and industrial therapists prepare patients for what they will do when they return to work. Sometimes therapists will even go out to a patient’s job site to observe the work that goes on there, so they can analyze the exact skills and functions will be needed for a successful return to work and simulate that during therapy. 

Patients begin with general fitness and endurance tasks such as walking on a treadmill, stretching, and lifting weights. Then they graduate to more specific tasks with the help of specialized equipment and therapy. There is a driving simulator, that allows patient to use a steering wheel and other controls. There is an array of tools and equipment that allow patients to practice the skills they use every day – screw drivers for turning, gradually heavier buckets for carrying, and ladders for climbing. There is a specialized machine that allows people to practice cranking, turning valves, and pushing and pulling things. There is even a small conveyor belt for practicing lifting, moving, and loading cartons. 

“We have carpenters hammering nails. We have heating and ventilation workers climbing into overhead spaces. We have firefighters reeling in and pulling hoses. We have factory workers packing boxes,” says Todd Martin, a WellSpan worker’s compensation case manager. “This is a head-to-toe program to condition you to return to work. 

“It makes the employee safe to go back and it makes employers safe to bring them back. It is getting people back to work in a tight labor market and helping people to be happy and functional again.” 

Overall, about 85 percent of patients return to full duty or modified duty upon discharge from one of the programs. Though it is focused on work skills, the therapy also often allows people to regain the endurance and skills to return to other things in their lives as well. 

R.A. Walton & Co., a mechanical contracting and metal fabricating company in York, is one local company whose employees have used WellSpan’s work conditioning or hardening programs. 

“The people who have done the programs have been very successful in returning to work in their positions,” said Deb Olphin, human resources manager. “When I have spoken to the employees, they have been very pleased with their successes. It’s bringing them back to work safely.” 

Returning to work is both a physical and mental journey, which can allow people to regain a sense of purpose and happiness in their life. Rick Pickett, a WellSpan occupational and industrial therapist, worked with Petey as she recovered and enjoyed seeing her grow stronger every week. Therapists cheer on patients, he said, and patients cheer on each other as they work side by side toward their individual goals. 

“I like that we get to know people very well,” he said. “Helping someone get back to their life is very rewarding.” 

Petey says she does not know where she would be without the program. 

“Without WellSpan, it would have been a long road,” she says. “I am ready to go for it now.” 

Learn more about WellSpan rehabilitation services that help employees stay healthy and recover from injuries.