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CHS has dual mission: learning and community

By Jennifer Moody
For Lebanon Local
Visitors to the physical therapy program at the Lebanon branch of Western University of Health Sciences can support its dual mission just by walking through one of the two front doors.
The door on the left is where students enter, headed to classes, lab work or study sessions. The door on the right is the “community door,” the entrance to the patient care program.
Essentially, however, both doors go to the same building – just like the joint mission serves the college overall, said Dee Schilling, dean of the College of Health Sciences.
“The building lent itself to putting it right on the doors so you can see it,” she said. “One, teach students. We provide students the excellence in education they need to go out and take care of the community. The other entrance is for patient care, and it’s a community door. We are there for the community.
“Students can’t grow without the community, but we have to grow them for the community,” Schilling continued. “We are a family. We all need to work together.”
The first 50 students in the three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy program started classes in July 2021, beginning while the building at 2665 S. Santiam Highway was still undergoing renovation.

A RIBBON CUTTING ceremony for COMP-NW’s College of Health Sciences draws a crowd on July 8.

The two front doors of the program center had a ceremonial opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony this past July 9, and the new cohort has now begun classes.
When the 46,000-square-foot building was Hometown Furniture, visitors could wander labyrinthian rows of beds, bureaus and bookshelves, passing the occasional boat or bus as part of the transportation-themed decor.
Now, however, the building features a brightly-lit entryway on the student side, complete with a fireplace and booth- and barstool-style seating.
To the right is a communal space with 12 microwaves, two foosball tables and lockers for personal belongings. To the left are offices, with a track marked on the hallway floor for any student who wants to get in a quick workout or concentrate on their own physical therapy. Around a corner is a small meditation room, complete with prayer rugs and soft lighting.
“We wanted it to be student-centric,” said Chad Lairamore, executive vice dean of the College of Health Sciences Northwest and the chair for the physical therapy program. The student spaces are “about the whole person, making sure the students are taken care of.”
On the patient care side of the building, visitors have a variety of workout spaces and practice equipment, places where students can measure their needs and their progress while supervising faculty do the same for the students.

A mural that was a highlight of Hometown Furniture is admired by visitors in the new CHS research lab.

One section of the building – which still features the furniture shop’s transportation-themed mural – is a research lab for motion and cardiovascular assessments.
Another section has been transformed into a 1,400-square-foot living area. It’s the heart of the growing occupational therapy program, just added this year. Complete with bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and a small container garden, the “apartment” will be a site where patients can practice the occupational therapy movements of daily living.
Transformation work is continuing on the patient side. A $673,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust of Vancouver, Wash., will help develop a space for pediatric physical therapy patients. A swingset, ball pit and rock-climbing wall all will be part of the building, along with quieter spaces for children who struggle with sensory overload.
“We have lots of plans on how to make that a really fun, vibrant space for the kids,” Lairamore said.
Adults already have begun using the Practical Application Lab on the care side of the facility. In the program’s first year, Lairamore said, students worked under faculty supervision with 32 volunteer patients. (To be considered for possible PAL inclusion in the future, residents can check availability by contacting the college at (541) 259-0442.)
One of the first was Will Tucker of Lebanon, a Linn County Commissioner and avid hiker and outdoorsman. A longtime supporter of Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Health Sciences Northwest, he was among the speakers at the July 9 ribbon-cutting.
“I am a walking need for physical therapy,” said Tucker, who said his more recent health challenges include osteoporosis, bad breaks in his back and an ankle, and a lack of sensory feedback in his left foot, which, paradoxically, has caused both numbness and oversensitivity.
In twice-weekly visits to the physical therapy center, students worked with Tucker to help his joints become stronger and more flexible and to desensitize the toes on his left foot. Tucker stood on balance boards, worked with stretch bands of varying tension levels, and did leg lifts and other exercises while students watched, coached and measured.
He was impressed, he said, by how many students worked with him and how diligently they checked on him and on each other.
“They didn’t just measure my ankle. Two or three of them would measure my ankle,” he said. “Each week they’d talk about what they learned and have me try it.”
Supervising doctors always were on hand to observe the work and suggest a change or correction if needed, he said.
The therapy is working, Tucker said. His left foot still doesn’t feel exactly like his right, but he can trim his toenails and sleep on his back now, things he was afraid to do before because the foot was so sensitive or a toe would catch on the sheets. He’s also been able to take short hikes without toe-catches or falls.

Visitors check out an apartment that is located within the school as a training ground.

Maryann Davenport was another early beneficiary of the PAL. She heard 11 years ago that Lebanon would be home to an osteopathic medical school and deliberately chose to move to the mid-valley from Southern California to be close to it.
Davenport had been working on physical therapy since 1985, specifically for back problems. She also battles vertigo, and has arthritis in her right hand.
“When I heard they (the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific) were going to bring in a PT program, I was all ears,” she said. “And they were just excellent. Those kids were so conscientious and patient with an old lady. I really enjoyed it.”
Strength and balance training were a part of her routine at the lab, Davenport said. “They gave me several new exercises. I’ve just got a lot of homework, but it’s really good for me.”
The sheer delight from patients who say they can feel themselves getting stronger is what students like Priyanka Garg love about working in the physical therapy lab.
A San Diego resident, Garg, 25, initially had thought to enroll at WesternU in Pomona, Calif., but learned she could be a part of the inaugural PT class in Lebanon if she were accepted there. She changed directions and is now in her second year.
Garg was a student athlete growing up and had hoped to play professional soccer. When she tore the ligament in her knee known as the ACL, her doctor told her she might not play again – but her physical therapist was far more encouraging.
“My physical therapist said, ‘We can get you back into it. This is no big deal. So many people do this and still play,” Garg recalled. “It was that passion and determination and building that relationship with my physical therapist, and I was like, wow, I really like this.”
She started volunteering at clinics and decided, “I want to do this for the rest of my life. I want to make someone feel like that, like how I felt, and how I see them.”
That’s the best part, agreed classmate Bradley Davis, 24, of New Orleans, also in his second year of the Lebanon program.
“They (patients) really do appreciate us, and they appreciate the faculty and professors,” he said.

Several class spaces that can be divided into two separate rooms include equipment on one side and desks on the other.

“We try to put smiles on their faces and have them feeling better leaving than when they came in. If I can do that for them, I feel great and feel accomplished for that session.”
Happy residents are a big part of the measurement of the program’s success, said Lairamore, the executive vice dean. Another part will be whether the students who graduate after three years will choose to take their new knowledge and skills to a rural or underserved area.
Rural residents tend to experience different injuries than their city counterparts, said Schilling, the dean.
People who work in agriculture or otherwise spend a lot of time outdoors will have more injuries related to heavy equipment, say, or hiking.
But at the same time, rural residents have fewer choices or often have to drive long distances just to get the care they need.
The educators say that’s where the medical school’s program comes in, and why they chose to build it in Lebanon.
“Once they (students) are embedded and become connected, there’s a higher probability they will stay. And we want them to stay,” Schilling said. “This is about the Lebanon community, the Pacific Northwest, the Willamette Valley. We want them to take jobs not in Portland or Seattle, but where the population is that is underserved, in need.”
They know it doesn’t always happen that way.
Davis, for instance, dreams of working as a physical therapist with a professional football or basketball team, something that isn’t found in a city of roughly 17,000, and Garg said she’d like to remain close to her Southern California family.
In the meantime, however, wherever the students end up, while they’re here, Lebanon benefits, Tucker said.
“This doesn’t just bring jobs, or people buying scrubs and renting housing,” he said. “These kids bring all of that economic piece, but they also deliver their skills back to our community.”
“‘There’s essentially no downside.”