Lee Health offers innovative virtual reality technology to patients in skilled nursing unit

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — When Carl Johnson entered Gulf Coast Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Unit with a foot injury, he had no idea deepsea swimming, herding sheep and volleyball would be part of his therapy.

“I got so into it, I almost forgot it was a virtual reality machine and I wasn’t actually doing those things,” said Johnson. “The virtual reality equipment really made me move and stand up and do exercises I normally wouldn’t do. It was so fun and I absolutely loved it.”

At Gulf Coast’s Skilled Nursing Unit, Johnson is one of more than 100 patients that have been able to take part in the health system’s new virtual reality technology.

Originally obtained for COVID-19 patients within the hospital, the virtual reality units enable patients to do things like virtually ride a bike, garden and even play bingo while they are inside a hospital room.

There are two different kinds of virtual technology units available at Gulf Coast’s Skilled Nursing Unit. One is an OmniCycle, a therapeutic exercise cycle and the other is a virtual reality machine, a device with a TV-like screen.

The technology has been proven to help with fall prevention and balance, pain management, better breathing, and overall better patient outcomes.

“Being in isolation was lonely for many of our COVID-19 patients and we wanted to do something to lift their spirits while helping them recover. That’s how this program was started,” said Bethany Schroll, physical therapist at Gulf Coast Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Unit. “We knew we needed to get creative, so we explored virtual reality and got units that we could thoroughly sanitize and take into the patient’s room. It has made such a difference in their physical and mental health.”

Once the COVID-19 unit within Gulf Coast’s Skilled Nursing Unit closed due to lower numbers of COVID-19 patients within Lee Health’s hospitals, the team there began using the virtual reality technology for its skilled nursing patients. For many of the seniors within the unit, it has helped them become more engaged in their physical therapy.

“We had one patient who refused to do any type of physical therapy. Once we got her to try the virtual technology, she started virtually gardening, and that bridged the gap from the virtual world to the physical world, and after that, we got her to participate in physical therapy, which was so beneficial for her,” said Schroll. “Overall, this technology has just been amazing and our patients have loved it.”

Gulf Coast received this equipment in the fall of 2020, and since then, they’ve had several virtual outdoor activities, including a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving where patients even got a medal for a being a top finisher.

Learn more about Gulf Coast Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Unit at www.leehealth.org/our-services/skilled-nursing/skilled-nursing-unit-at-gulf-coast-medical-center.