The University of Delaware’s Health Sciences Complex opened its doors this month as UD’s first building on the STAR Campus, welcoming students, faculty, staff, researchers and the local community to a facility built for collaborative care and learning.
Kathy Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences, said the complex, located in the renovated former Chrysler administration building, is open to the public as a physical therapy and primary care medical facility.
Housed in the building is the Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic, which is a full-service, professional operation that is open to the community and paired with UD’s nationally-ranked PT doctoral program. Nearly 10,000 square feet and twice the size of its former location in McKinley Hall, the PT clinic now has more equipment and more room.
Grace Ademski, a physical therapist and clinical instructor, said patients love the physical location of the facility on the STAR Campus and are grateful for the large parking lot, as it was difficult for many to find parking on the main campus prior to the move.
“We’re very excited about our new space and we’re so much more accessible to our patients now,” she said. “We were in the basement [of McKinley] before, so windows are nice.”
Ademski explained that one side of the new clinic is for neurology and older adult patients, while the other side is for sports and orthopedic issues. She said her favorite new piece of equipment is the track in the ceiling that snakes around the entire clinic. She said amputees, patients who suffered a stroke and older, fall-prone patients can strap into a harness and hook into the track for body-weight-supported gait training.
Second-year physical therapy graduate students Kristen Lockwood and Keegan Granger also said they like the track system, which allows patients to work on walking under their own body weight without the possibility of falling.
“A lot of patients with repeated falls have that fear with every step,” Granger said. “This allows them to build the confidence.”
Making the loop around the clinic is also a good goal for patients, Lockwood added.
Airelle Hunter-Giordano, associate director of sports physical therapy, said the sports and orthopedic side of the clinic typically deals with patients who have suffered either an ACL tear, rotator cuff injury, back pain or slips and falls. She said sometimes patients are referred to the clinic by doctors and hospitals, but people can also walk in and schedule an appointment.
Hunter-Giordano said being in a bigger, better-equipped space is inspiring for the students and researchers.
“What will be amazing is what we can do with that and affecting more people, training more students and conducting more research,” she said.
In addition to classroom learning, PT grad students spend two semesters at the STAR Campus, one on each side of the clinic, and one semester in pediatrics at an off-site location.
“You kind of have everything come together when you’re actually treating a patient,” Lockwood said, adding that she learns better that way. “I feel a whole lot more prepared for full-time.”
Students have their own patients and create their own plans under the supervision of a trained physical therapist, who checks their work, gives them advice and steers them in the right direction.
“We get the hands-on experience of being an actual physical therapist with the support of a trained PT who knows what she’s doing,” Lockwood said.
Granger and Lockwood said the move to the STAR Campus was in preparation for the expansion of the physical therapy program. Although they enjoyed their time in McKinley Hall, they said the new building is “absolutely amazing.”
“It was a well-loved facility,” Granger said. “But we were getting too big for it. It wasn’t up to the standard that we have here.”
The new clinic is equipped with mats, weights, recumbent bikes, treadmills and other tools to help patients reach their goals. There is also a kitchen and a bathroom so patients can practice getting back to everyday activities, like reaching up high to open cabinets or down low to pull out drawers.
Granger said the kitchen and bathroom allow for more functional training, which patients seem to really benefit from.
“Instead of, ‘Let’s just simulate getting into a tub,’ you can actually get into one,” she said.
Also on the first floor of the Health Sciences Complex is a pediatric mobility lab and design studio for the rehabilitation technology for children with significant mobility limitations. There is also a muscle performance lab and research labs with treadmills embedded into the floor for reduced vibration and more accurate data analysis.
Further down the hallway is the Nurse Managed Health Center, where nurse practitioners are able to provide primary care to the anyone over the age of 18 with minor illnesses and injuries, except UD students.
The facility is not currently set up for pediatrics, but Dr. Allen Prettyman, director of the Nurse Managed Health Center, said it is possible they will begin to treat children sometime within the next year.
Prior to moving to the STAR Campus, he said the health center was a tiny waiting room and two exam rooms in McDowell Hall. Now, the facility is equipped with six treatment rooms, lab rooms, a blood drawing station and a bone scan room. Nurse practitioners are able see between 60 and 70 patients a day when fully staffed.
“We went from 500 to 5,000 square feet,” Prettyman said.
He said many medical tests can be done in-house at the Nurse Managed Health Center, and patients do not have to wait days to hear the results.
“We’re very much about one-stop shopping,” he said. “We can do the whole thing.”
Prettyman said the nurse practitioners also train UD graduate and undergraduate nursing students in outpatient care. In their previous health center in McDowell Hall, he said, they could only take on one graduate student a week, but are now able to train up to five. Only one undergraduate nursing student a semester was in the old facility, but now up to eight will get the hands-on experience of working in a doctors office.
Matt said this collaboration of students, professionals, researchers and community members all interacting the same building was the vision for the Health Sciences Complex.
She said she couldn’t be happier with the new building, which she called a “blending” of the old and the new. The main hallway sits where the back bays to the Chrysler assembly plant were, and many of the walls from the facility were kept intact. An original mural of cars painted on the wall remains, as well.
“We wanted to create something on the STAR Campus that gave back to the community in the same way that Chrysler did,” Matt said. “And I think we’ve done that here.”