Donors help reinvent the pediatric therapy department in Thief River Falls

July 19, 2019

Living in a rural area has its advantages: endless sky and beautiful landscapes, neighbors who lend a helping hand at a moment’s notice and children playing safely in their neighborhoods.

However, it is in these areas that specialized health care for children is often limited.

In Thief River Falls, some parents drive hundreds of miles for physical, speech and occupational therapy designed for kids.

Chad Tabatt, therapy and rehabilitation manager at Sanford Thief River Falls Medical Center, has heard these concerns for the past 10 years.

“We had patients telling us they were driving to Grand Forks or to Fargo multiple times a week,” he said. “There just wasn’t a pediatric-friendly environment for them to go to.”

Now, those challenges have been resolved.

Thanks to donors to the Sanford Health Foundation Thief River Falls, the pediatric therapy department relocated to a bigger space in the Sanford Thief River Falls Behavioral Health Center and replaced all its equipment. The new child-friendly environment will give local children the chance to reach their fullest potential and function more independently.

Identifying a problem

Sanford pediatric therapists have always met with students regularly at the local schools, but that isn’t enough, Tabatt said.

“There were a lot of kids that had education-based services at the school, but they also needed to have more social skills therapy or non-educational services,” he said.

The Sanford therapy facility at the Sanford Thief River Falls Medical Center wasn’t ideal either. The space was used by patients of all ages with a variety of health needs, and younger patients can get overwhelmed or distracted during appointments.

“There would be people in the gym that had strokes or orthopedic surgery or a whole spectrum of adult challenges while we’re trying to do treatments with the kids,” Tabatt said. “That really doesn’t mesh well. The kids need to be in their own type of environment.”

The therapy team did their best to adapt the space for everyone, but it wasn‘t easy on anyone involved, said Courtney Nordby, Sanford occupational therapy assistant.

“It was difficult trying to change those rooms over from women’s health to a kiddo to the next person who was an adult with a physical disability,” Nordby said.

How donors made the difference

For four years, the therapy team worked to redevelop their pediatric therapy services. Once the therapists saw the new 1,700-square-foot space in the Behavioral Health Center, they mentioned plans to a few families and the news spread quickly.

Generous donors to the Sanford Health Foundation Thief River Falls provided $80,000 of the best kid-friendly and safe therapy equipment and furnishings available.

“I’m firmly convinced we would not have this space if it wasn’t for the donors to the Sanford Health Foundation,” Tabatt said.

Children really enjoy the new area and everything inside, Nordby said. From the moment they walk in the waiting room, they’re ready for an adventure.

A yellow brick road painted on the floor leads to a huge gymnasium, where the patients’ therapy begins.

“They usually just come bursting through the door into the big gym area,” Nordby said.  “In this large gym area, you’re able to do more variety of treatments with them. They absolutely love it. Often times it’s hard to get them out of the gym.”

The kids are able to practice their motor skills on different kinds of equipment, like on one of the many swings and on a treadmill or bike. They test their balance by scaling a tall climbing wall and stability on a large playground with an attached slide.

In addition, donations bought many desensitization items for a new sensory room where children learn to concentrate. They use electric sit-to-stand tables for toys and games conveniently set to their height. Therapists use a home-like kitchen area to teach feeding and other self-care activities.

Since the first appointments last November, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents are happy to see their little ones improving and relieved they can get the care they need so close to home.

“Before we would have to maybe refer clients away because we just didn’t have the space or capabilities to see the patients,” Nordby said. “Now we’re able to cater to the patients a little bit more because we are pediatric friendly.”

What you can do

Gifts to the Sanford Health Foundation Thief River Falls made the pediatric therapy expansion and new equipment a reality.

“To me, it’s providing kids with hope. That’s what the Foundation donors were able to do,” Tabatt said. “It’s opening up a whole new part of the world to our kids that maybe wouldn’t have had it before.”

If you’d like to help care for your youngest neighbors and loved ones in the Thief River Falls area, visit sanfordhealthfoundation.org/thiefriverfalls to make a gift.