Inside Athena: Heatherwood Dir. of Rehabilitation Making A “Home For Second Chances”
NEWPORT, R.I. — A sign at Heatherwood Rehabilitation & Health Care Center once declared it a “home for second chances.”
Rehabilitation Director John Whitney and his team help give those second chances. He’s been at the Newport center for almost three years. Whitney oversees the rehabilitation schedule: making sure patients are being seen, addressing any concerns, assisting in discharge planning, and working closely with his therapy team to help strengthen the residents to avoid further declines. There are about 50 patients across occupational, speech, and physical therapy that he manages.
His career started with Athena in 2009 at Waterview Villa Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in East Providence. However, his experience in healthcare goes back to his time spent in The Bronx where he worked for seven years as a supervisor at a nursing home.
During this job in New York, where he’s from, he met who would later become his wife and she was from Rhode Island. They agreed to move back to the Ocean State to build their life together and now have three children.
Whitney’s journey into physical therapy began at a young age.
“I was in physical therapy myself. I was born with anti-version of the hips and I spent a lot of my young life tripping over myself,” he said, as he thinks back to those therapists that helped him and what inspired him to go into this career path. He did work with children and thought he would enjoy it, but found it emotionally tough.
Whitney enjoys treating the residents at Heatherwood Rehab and you won’t find him shying away from hopping on the floor to help.
“It’s important to be on the ‘front lines’ for a variety of reasons,” he said. “It’s one thing to have someone tell you a patient’s status, it’s another to be in the gym. Even if I’m not working with the particular patient, when your fellow coworkers are all working with them and you can actually see what’s happening with them, it’s a good way to be on top of any issues.”
There was one patient that he still keeps track of today. The woman came in with a brain injury and could only retain memories for a short time. After working with her, he said she is living “a completely normal life like nothing ever happened” in Syracuse, New York. Whitney said moments like these are sometimes like a Hallmark movie.
“It’s a lot of fun to take someone who can’t do anything and give them a second chance at life,” he said.
Managing therapy sessions takes a lot of planning and knowledge. He says the personalities of the patient and therapist have to match.
“One of the main things I think is important is continuity of care so I try to make sure, for the most part, the residents are seeing the same therapist over and over again,” he said. “I’m really proud of my crew. They do a very good job convincing some of the patients that don’t want to do anything or given up and kind of changing their mind.”
The director said, if his crew can’t get someone to do something, no one else can. He said he’s changing lives and that provides a lot of fulfillment and helps him sleep at night knowing he’s making a meaningful impact on others.