For people who suffer a catastrophic disability such as a stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury or amputation, their recovery doesn’t stop once they are discharged from the hospital. In fact, their rehabilitation care once they leave the hospital is essential in helping them return to the quality of life that they had prior to their injury.
But for many who live in Harris County, this is not always an option as they don’t have the resources for rehabilitative care or equipment. This is where Rehabilitation Services Volunteer Project (RSVP) steps in, to provide patients with these resources.
The all-volunteer, nonprofit organization, started by healthcare providers including physicians at Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, provides clinical services and medical equipment to those with disabilities who otherwise lack access to these services. RSVP has two divisions – the clinical services division and the equipment division. The clinical services division provides physical, occupational and speech therapy, physician evaluations, pharmacy referrals and neuropsychological and nursing care to those who have catastrophic injuries such as stroke, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and amputations. Outside of RSVP, these patients would not have access to these types of outpatient rehabilitation services.
The equipment division of the organization helps provide gently recycled, durable medical equipment to individuals with a disability, regardless of their level of disability, who lack access to the equipment they need. Equipment includes walkers, shower chairs and electrical or power wheelchairs. This division was initially started by a group of residents at Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston under Project Union, but the program eventually merged with RSVP.
Dr. Sunil Kothari, medical director of RSVP and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor, said that the organization was formed because physicians, including Drs. Ana Durand-Sanchez, Viola Hysa, Cindy Ivanhoe and himself saw that there was a group of patients in Harris County whose needs were not being met.
Many people are sometimes in between funding sources once they are discharged from the hospital, said Kothari.
“This is a safety net between their discharge from the hospital and them getting some sort of insurance,” he said.
Medical care services are offered the first and third Saturday of each month at a rehabilitation facility that rents space to RSVP. The equipment dispersal takes place the second Saturday of each month.
“The medical community as a whole is very good at saving someone’s life,” said Dr. Craig DiTommaso, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor who is the medical director of the equipment dispersal division of the organization. “But we haven’t really figured out how to give people the quality of life once we’ve saved it. Oftentimes, these individuals are struggling with the inability to move or care for themselves, the inability to articulate their thoughts, needs and wants. This leads to a very poor quality of life.”
DiTommaso said that RSVP helps give people the tools or direction to start to improve their quality of life by helping them interact and contribute to both their family and society.
DiTommaso vividly recalls a woman who suffered from stroke and was paralyzed on one side of her body. When she was discharged from the hospital, she was given a wheelchair that did not accommodate the weakness she had on one side of her body and she was unable to move around or get anywhere. Through the organization, she was able to get a customized wheelchair that was appropriate for someone with weakness on one side of their body, giving her ability to go to church and contribute to the activities and events at the church, which gave her life meaning and allowed her to touch other people’s lives in turn.