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Not today, COVID!

Long time, no update! What with COVID-19 running rampant through the province, there have been some major adjustments to work and home life that our team, along with every other person who lives in Alberta, has had to deal with. The pandemic has changed our normal work environments, but it has also brought about new opportunities and shown the relevance of our work. We have moved our lab online, are working from home, and have also gained a few new team members. Perhaps most importantly though, we have adapted our project in light of COVID-19, leading to some major shifts in the delivery of the project.

It became apparent very early that the physical distancing measures being implemented by the government (for the safety of our whole community) meant that our community trials, poised to begin as soon as our ethics revisions were approved, could no longer proceed as planned. This was a very hard reality to face. With our funding set to expire at the end of this year, we were forced to revisit the very foundations of our project in order to meet our core objective of improving access to rehabilitation services for Albertans. During this crisis, access to rehabilitation has become an issue for all Albertans, but we soon learned that the most impacted and vulnerable Albertans during this time are our seniors.

Faced with this reality, we found new direction for our team. We decided to shift our focus to supporting rehabilitative care for seniors during the pandemic. This serves our project and our province in two ways. Through trialling Tele-Rehab 2.0 with seniors, not only can we support a population which is disportionately affected by the pandemic, but we can also continue our work to create effective methods of tele-rehabilitation, which can also be extended to rural and remote patients.

The decision to support seniors came about once we learned the extent to which seniors must isolate to stay safe during this time. Unfortunately, the presence of a pandemic does not immediately solve all other health conditions, so our seniors were quite suddenly having to forego many other medical appointments to stay safe, including rehabilitation assessments and treatments. We find this to be an unacceptable tradeoff. By providing care to seniors virtually, we allow for seniors to receive the care they need, without exposure to the virus which typical face-to-face assessments would risk. Our project will enable the continuation of quality care for seniors in these uncertain times.

We have partnered with a local physiotherapy company and a not-for-profit senior’s care organization in the Edmonton area in order to put this plan into motion. We are hopeful we will be able to begin trials in June (although given our previous track record, the murder hornets may put this start date off yet again!).

A lot of people have been discussing how this pandemic has given them opportunities - to rest, to create, to learn something new. This is our opportunity to make a difference. No amount of advocacy by our team could have done what COVID-19 has done in bringing awareness to how useful telehealth can be. This is a difficult situation for so many people, and we have found our way to support Albertans. Our trials will bring much needed care to seniors throughout this pandemic, and what we learn through this process will allow for quality Tele-Rehab 2.0 assessments to be provided to other communities across the province, even after this crisis is over. We are looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.

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