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IHS Physical Therapists Expand Access to Essential Services

by Capt. Tarri Randall, Acting Director of Physical Therapy, Whiteriver Indian Hospital

October is Physical Therapy Month. The Indian Health Service has over 136 physical therapy staff employed across the nation at over 50 different clinical sites. IHS physical therapists expand access to essential rehabilitative services for many American Indians and Alaska Natives who live in rural settings. Having physical therapy as a treatment option is extremely important for patients who may otherwise be without opportunities for specialty care within a reasonable travel distance. Physical therapists evaluate and manage treatment programs for numerous patient conditions and diagnoses. Many IHS physical therapists hold advanced certification and credentials including hand therapy, strength training and conditioning, orthopedics, manual therapy, sports therapy, geriatrics, pediatrics, wound care, neurology, vestibular rehabilitation, clinical electrophysiology, pain management. and women’s health.

Several IHS rehabilitation sites sponsor special rehabilitation programs. For instance, shoe and brace clinics provide access to custom diabetic shoes, prosthesis and braces. Many departments host pre- and post-natal classes that promote good health outcomes for both mother and child. Pediatric programs address the specialized rehabilitation needs of infants and children with neurodevelopmental delays and orthopedic diagnoses. Physical therapy staff also sponsor programs to improve balance as a way of preventing falls. IHS physical therapists are active participants in many high school athletics programs to improve training and reduce athletic injuries. Wheelchair clinics provide access to mobility and adaptive equipment to raise independence to the highest possible level. 

Physical therapists also assist in the mission to improve the pharmacological management of patients with chronic pain. Therapists have been natural and primary partners with pain clinics across IHS and provide access to non-pharmacological options of physical therapy treatments and approaches. Some physical therapists have received advanced certification in pain management and may incorporate newer pain neuroscience principles or mindfulness exercises.

Physical therapy enhances and promotes the physical, mental, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives through movement and hands-on treatment. Physical therapists not only help patients get back to their normal routines after injury, but also educate them on health promotion, injury and disease prevention, exercise, and general lifestyle adaptations that can improve the overall quality of life. Physical therapy staff are recognized as subject matter experts. As such, they are relied upon to provide local consultation and education to their respective patient populations and fellow staff members. They are involved in annual service unit orientation and training on matters such as proper body mechanics, ergonomics, and wound care. Physical therapists also participate locally in community events, health fairs and luncheons to provide education on a variety of topics such as fall prevention, diabetes prevention and management through exercise, and physical activity guidelines for all ages.

Remember to reach out to your physical therapy staff and #ChoosePT.

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Capt. Tarri Randall, Acting Director of Physical Therapy, Whiteriver Indian Hospital
Capt. Tarri Randall is a U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officer who has worked in the Indian Health Service since 1997. She started at the Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna Service Unit in Acoma, New Mexico, where she was the physical therapy department manager. Since 2003, she has worked as a clinical specialist at the Whiteriver Indian Hospital on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and has served as acting director of physical therapy since April 2017. She was selected as the IHS chief clinical consultant for physical rehabilitation services in May 2017.