By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Being able to step over a curb, get out of a car, or walk to the mailbox are activities many people take for granted, but after illness or injury, these daily tasks can seem daunting.
That’s why St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted (part of the Benedictine Health System) recently created a mobility courtyard, which is designed to help patients practice balance and coordination in a safe environment.
“Winsted is very unique to have this; there’s nothing like this in the state of Minnesota,” Garry Woessner, regional director of rehabilitation at BHS, said during the courtyard’s blessing ceremony Tuesday.
In the past, St. Mary’s therapists mainly rehabilitated patients on flat, smooth surfaces, but the mobility courtyard takes that training a step further, with a variety of realistic obstacles.
“Often, one of the first things patients do when they go home is go down the stairs, head outside, and get the mail,” Woessner said. But, because they’re unprepared for the various surfaces they encounter, falls can occur.
With the mobility courtyard, both short-stay and long-term residents can practice going to a mailbox, walking up a ramp and over a bridge, using a clothesline, and traveling on an assortment of uneven surfaces.
“Everything you see has a purpose,” Woessner said. “Our goal was to create as many simulated surfaces in this space as we could.”
One highlight is a transfer training car for patients to practice entering and exiting without risking injury. According to Brown, some residents are even learning how to get out of the car with bags of groceries and a walker.
The car was donated by a former patient, Floyd Nolan of French Lake Auto Parts, and bodywork to get it ready for the courtyard was provided by John’s Collision of Howard Lake.
Getting the car into the interior courtyard of St. Mary’s was an exciting challenge. Using dollies on each wheel and lifting the car from the front, it was carefully “driven” through the hallways until it reached its destination.
During the courtyard blessing ceremony, members of the community and St. Mary’s staff listened as St. Mary’s chaplain Father Eugene Brown offered a prayer of thanksgiving and read excerpts from Psalm 148.
“May this be a place where confidence and optimism can be restored,” Brown said.
According to Woessner, a trip to the hospital can be a life-altering event, and the goal of the mobility courtyard is to help patients get back to their normal lives when they return home.
He gave the example of his own 88-year-old mother, who fell and broke her hip. She didn’t have access to a courtyard like this, and is now afraid of falling again.
“Every step she takes, she’s petrified,” Woessner said, adding that the only two times she leaves the house each week is for the beauty shop on Fridays, and for church on Sundays.
Woessner said he hopes the new courtyard will be a year-round source of joy and satisfaction to patients as they improve their strength and mobility skills.
A portion of the project’s funding came from the Performance-based Incentive Payment Program (PIPP), which was established by the Minnesota legislature in 2006. St. Mary’s Care Center, Gertrude’s Health and Rehabilitation Center in Shakopee, and Benedictine Health Center Innsbruck in St. Paul are the three facilities in the Benedictine Health System adding mobility courtyards to their campuses through this initiative.
In addition to long-term care and outpatient rehabilitation, the St. Mary’s Care Center campus in Winsted also includes The Garden House memory care assisted living facility and Linden Wood Apartments.