By Damon Markiewicz

Faculty members and students from the Springfield College Department of Physical Therapy were recently recognized by BusinessWest as ‘Healthcare Heroes’ for their efforts as part of ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center in Chicopee, and its Strive Clinic in Holyoke, two programs that care for adults with brain injuries caused by trauma or medical conditions.

Kathy Pappas, associate professor of human anatomy, and Kimberly Nowakowski, associate professor and director of clinical education, began working with Enrichment Center Director Ellen Werner back in 2014. Together, they have developed an innovative model of community-based care that brings in physical therapy students to work with clients under the direction of their instructors, who also serve as on-site clinicians. 

The Enrichment Center is an adult day-care center that offers physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies as needed. Clients also have the ability to choose from an array of activities to help promote cognitive growth and social interaction, such as support groups, music and dance sessions, arts and crafts, and trips to museums, bowling alleys, and movie theaters.

The Strive Clinic uses the Enrichment Center’s well-equipped gym, providing a safe space for limited-contact services by appointment only, which allows for more individual work for a client.

“One of the great things about this collaboration is that the students get to see the clients grow and change over an extended period, even as they are growing themselves,” said Pappas. “A PT is someone who sees the person as a whole and not just one part, and this program allows our students the time and experience to understand each client as a whole person and see them fully.” 

Students in the physical therapy program spend their time during each semester working at the center as part of an integrated learning model. The depth and breadth of this collaboration deepens the relationship between clients and the program, creating a vibrant learning environment. 

Nowakowski emphasizes the integrated learning structure as a core strength for all involved.

“Because of the program’s unique structure, we as the clinical supervisors know the clients well and are able to tailor the student’s time with them to where they are in the progress of the program,” said Nowakowski. “And because this is a day program, the students also need to make sure they are communicating with the program director and other staff and following up. That’s an important part of the process and helps them learn to become great advocates for the clients.”

Clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic are typically adults with brain injuries, many of whom suffered them years ago. Brain injuries can be inflicted by traumatic, external forces, such as car accidents, assaults, and other forms of violence, or from medical issues, such as strokes, aneurisms, and brain tumors. A brain injury can cause changes in identity, mental health, relationships, family structure, the ability to work, and economic status.

People with brain injuries sometimes fall off the radar in the healthcare system, but ServiceNet and its partners are making that change. Clients are able to go through the Acquired Brain Injury/Moving Forward Plan (ABI/MFP) waiver program, to help make sure they receive the care that they need.

“This really aligns with the mission of Springfield College, to educate our students to become leaders in service to our community,” added Pappas. “Everyone deserves access to the care that they need, and this partnership allows for that to happen, and our faculty and students are at the center of providing care for all patients.”