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Therapy Centers a Boon for Students and Residents

People in need of physical and speech therapy can get it free or discounted at local teaching clinics.

The MGH Institute of Health Professions physical and speech therapy centers not only give graduate students experience in a teaching clinic setting – they also provide local residents with free care to compensate for where their insurance falls short.

The pro bono physical therapy center opened last May. The speech therapy center has been running for 18 years. Both are located at 36 First Ave. in the Navy Yard.

This semester, students at the physical therapy center are treating 13 clients, three of whom are Charlestown residents, said John Shaw, who directs marketing and communications at the institute. Meanwhile, students at the speech therapy center see more than 100 clients every week.

The physical therapy center provides free care to residents whose insurance doesn’t cover the service, or residents who have exhausted the limits of their benefits. Licensed faculty members from the institute’s department of physical therapy supervise students as they treat clients with neurological, muscular and skeletal impairments.

The center treats clients like Regina, a woman in her 50s who recently had a stroke that impaired her movement. After using up the physical therapy benefits that her insurance provided, Regina resorted to receiving treatment at the center. Jane Baldwin, who specializes in neurological physical therapy and runs the center, supervises her physical therapy sessions.  

Baldwin said that many of the center’s chronically impaired clients like Regina have insurance but have depleted their physical therapy benefits. To save money, Baldwin said, insurance companies limit the number of physical therapy sessions that they will cover, and many refuse to cover people who recover slowly from physical impairments. “Two months of physical therapy after a stroke is a drop in the bucket,” she said.

The speech center treats children and adults for little or no charge

Baldwin also said that many insurance companies don’t cover speech therapy for children with developmental disabilities because they say that the schools should provide that care. But she said that many schools can’t afford it, and parents end up paying the full cost of treatment.  

To reduce or eliminate that cost, graduate students at the speech center treat children and adults with autism, dyslexia and other speech and reading impairments. The center includes the Aphasia Center, where students treat people who have lost the ability to speak or understand speech because of brain damage from a stroke, injury or disease.

Clients who have had strokes often treatment from both the speech center and the physical therapy center, since the attack often impairs speech and muscle movement, said Shaw.

Changing clinical conditions impelled institute to open physical therapy center

Baldwin said that the institute created the physical therapy center in part because hospitals and other health centers where students interned had become so focused on treating patients quickly that nurse practitioners didn’t have enough time to teach students. “Some of the pressures of health care today make having a student around more challenging,” she said. “With paid services, there is much more pressure to make every minute count.”  

Baldwin said that students at the center are able to work at their own pace, which provides them with an educational advantage but can also inconvenience clients.

Student administered care isn’t for everyone

Baldwin said that the clinic isn’t for everyone. Clients wait longer than they would at other clinics, they must tell their medical history every semester to different students, and they have less privacy, with students coming in and out to observe treatment.

Also, Baldwin said that at a teaching clinic, clients won’t receive the same level of care that they would with a therapist with years of experience.

Still, Baldwin said that clients, particularly those who were young and working when they became physically impaired, enjoy receiving treatment from students -- they believe that they are helping them learn and feel a renewed sense of purpose.

So far, clients have learned of the center through word-of-mouth, said Shaw. But if demand for services increases, the institute might consider extending the center’s hours, Shaw said.

“If we prove that we could be kept open four to five days a week with some planning,” Baldwin said, “I think the institute would make that happen.” 

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