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Published in CenterView on October 08, 2012
URC staff members from left, Katrina Smith, unit secretary; Linda Jackson, case manager; Jennifer Ray, occupational therapist; and Lonnie Benton, administrative assistant
URC staff members from left, Katrina Smith, unit secretary; Linda Jackson, case manager; Jennifer Ray, occupational therapist; and Lonnie Benton, administrative assistant

URC staff celebrate 10 years of providing excellent service, producing superlative outcomes

By Matt Westerfield

Sitting by itself on the edge of campus, removed from the four-hospital complex of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the single-story University Rehabilitation Center is easily overlooked.

But as occupational therapist Jennifer Ray points out, it’s not what you do when everybody’s looking, but what you do when nobody’s looking that counts.

Despite having comparatively little visibility around campus and the surrounding community, Ray and her colleagues say URC is an underrated gem, staffed with a dedicated team of interdisciplinary health-care providers delivering excellent service, producing superlative patient outcomes and adding new specialties as it reaches its decade milestone.

“It’s like a family here,” said Ray, who is among a core group of staff members who have been with URC for all of its 10 years. “It’s just a great place to work.

“Most of the people I work with have worked at other rehabilitation centers, and they say that this will be the last place they ever work.”

Under the leadership of Dr. James Hughes, M. Backett Howorth Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, and with key support from hospital administrator Mary Mixon, URC opened its doors in the summer of 2002 in the old children’s rehabilitation center just off Lakeland Drive.

URC is an acute-care, short-term facility for patients who can make quick improvements with aggressive therapy, said Linda Jackson, registered nurse and case manager. The 25-bed unit specializes in helping patients recover from stroke, multiple traumas, transplants through physical, occupational and speech therapy, and amputees with an in-house, cutting-edge orthotics and prosthetics division.

Recently, URC was reaccredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) for its inpatient rehabilitation program. Three years ago, URC applied for and received accreditation for its stroke specialty program. In August, the center received accreditation for its amputee specialty program.

“The sickest of the sick come to UMMC, and we see them at their most vulnerable,” said Jackson, who also came to work at URC shortly after it opened. “I felt like, when I started this job, people who normally would not have received rehab, thanks to University Rehab Center, they were able to receive those services and become functional in the community.

“We have been so blessed that our patients come back to visit us. And they have to reintroduce themselves because they look so good.”

Last year, URC treated 410 patients, and 83 percent were discharged to home. Of those who responded to survey questions, 93 percent of the patients expressed overall satisfaction with the program.

When the center opened in 2002, Hughes cited a shortage of inpatient rehab beds in the state to meet the needs of UMMC’s patients. From the start, Hughes championed a strong interdisciplinary team approach, a philosophy that took root and carried on as the center went through administrative changes.

Hughes stepped down as medical director in 2010 and retired last year. In June, Cathy Hansen retired as director of rehabilitative services. Hansen was instrumental in developing the center’s therapy program in 2002.

“We’ve had a lot of changes, from Dr. Hughes’ retirement to other changes in management,” said Lonnie Benton, administrative assistant and part of the 10-year club, “but I have to say that the team, the core held it together. Without that, I think we would have fallen.”

“We take pride in what we do, and we take pride in being there for our patients,” said Katrina Smith, unit secretary. “That has a lot to do with our success as a group.”

Smith, who came to work at URC in 2002 as a nursing assistant, says she is taking prerequisites and soon will pursue her nursing degree, which may take her away from URC for some time.

“I’m going to hate to leave to go to nursing school, but I would love to come back here,” she said.

Dr. Robert McGuire, chair of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation, is serving as URC’s medical director. In June, physical therapist Shelly Poole was named administrator of rehabilitative services, overseeing all rehabilitation services at the Medical Center. URC was brought under the umbrella of Rehabilitative Services shortly before Hansen retired.

“URC has done an excellent job with the resources they’ve had,” Hansen said. “They have triple certification — that’s quite an accomplishment for such a small unit.

“The team approach that URC has and the care they provide are outstanding. Everyone on the staff is extremely dedicated, and they strive every day to make URC a better place for their patients.”