St. Antoine to put rehab patients on 'Easy Street'

St. Antoine to put rehab patients on 'Easy Street'

Saint Antoine Residence Executive Director Wendy Fargnoli points to the area that will be home to "Easy Street," a much larger rehabilitation room that will be built at the Rhodes Avenue, North Smithfield facility in the months ahead. The center will be only the second in the state. (Valley Breeze photo by Tom Ward)

NORTH SMITHFIELD - After several months of therapy, the accident victim is walking on his own again.

He uses an ATM machine, steps off a large curb and gets into a car. Soon, he'll carry bags of groceries into a home, a difficult task that he once took for granted.

But there's no traffic on this road, and nurses stand by on the ready to help with any unexpected problems.

Welcome to "Easy Street," a rehabilitative concept that allows patients to practice everyday life skills in a safe environment. It's used in more than 70 facilities across the country including St. Joseph Hospital in Providence. And now, Saint Antoine Residence is bringing it to northern Rhode Island.

"It simulates what life is going to be like at home," said Executive Director Wendy Fargnoli. "The whole concept is to safely transition people back home after a successful rehab experience, where they're more likely not to face another hospitalization."

The project will be the first of its kind at a nursing home in the state, and is part of a large renovation that will more than quadruple the size of Saint Antoine's current rehab room. Easy Street simulates environments that the patients will encounter once they leave rehabilitative care, allowing them to practice skills like grocery shopping and using a washing machine. At the end of the "street," a new gym will be filled with state of the art equipment.

The new Rehabilitative and Transitional Care Center at Saint Antoine's will include four modules: a grocery store/pharmacy, an apartment, an ATM, and a street/car.

The scenes were chosen by Saint Antoine staff after a visit to St. Joseph's.

"We interviewed them at the hospital and said 'which modules are just kind of fluff and eye candy and which one do you use all the time for the rehab experience?'" said Fargnoli.

The 1,700-square-foot setup is expected to cost around $1.5 million and will provide a simple way to fill the needs of the typical rehabilitative patient, with tasks like getting into a car.

"Right now we might bring our own car up to the turnaround, and it will be much more convenient inside," said Amy Whalen, team leader for the facility's rehabilitative department. "Basically you bring the outside in."

The street includes plenty of details with features such as benches, streetlights and a post office box.

"It has a wow factor when you go in to visit Easy Street, because you feel like you're in a little Disney village," said Fargnoli. "It's surreal."

At St. Joseph's, that "village" was built in the 1980s, and includes a simulated Newport Creamery and a Fleet Bank. Fargnoli is hopeful that Saint Antoine's modern version will be sponsored by local businesses, whose names and logos will appear on everything from the ATM to the grocery store. Private donors will also be able to memorialize individuals on Easy Street, naming benches, sidewalks and even the road itself.

New equipment, meanwhile, will include elements like harnesses and ceiling tracks, increasing patient safety while decreasing the burden on the rehabilitation department's staff.

"The equipment we're looking at will be for helping some of our more needy patients that need more physical assists," explained Whalen.

The changes will open the facility up to a wider range of patients including more short-term orthopedic patients and stroke victims, in keeping with the nursing home's goal of increasing transitional care options during their second century in business. Saint Antoine turned 100 last year, and is now running its first ever capital campaign to fund the upgrades. The team has already raised $650,000 during the campaign's "silent phase," where they reach out to board members and larger donors.

"More and more seniors want to go home after successful rehabilitation and stay home as long as possible," said Fargnoli.

Easy Street will also provide a method to test the home readiness of patients with cognitive issues, by allowing staff to assign tasks, such as finding the ingredients to make a lasagna.

"Just being able to balance a checkbook or pick the appropriate items for a recipe sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how many people have a hard time with that stuff," Whalen said.

"We hope with the new Easy Street and new equipment we're going to be able to help more people," Whalen added. "No one likes being sick. A lot of what we deal with is the emotional side of being sick, and I think if we can make it fun, it will make the experience that much better."