Alberta physiotherapists face challenges getting services to clients amid COVID-19

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WATCH: Physiotherapists are facing hurdles in how they deliver their services. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, some are urging caregivers to make sure their loved ones are still getting the help they need – Jun 8, 2020
Physiotherapists are facing new challenges in how they deliver their services in Alberta and some are urging caregivers to make sure their loved ones are still getting the help they need.
In 2017, Mindy Butalia suffered a stroke that robbed her of her speech and mobility. But through physiotherapy and hard work Butalia has come a long way. But then COVID-19 started spreading, and the massage therapy and physiotherapy services she used to rely on were no longer available.
“Everything stopped and it was a big disappointment,” Butalia said.
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Calgary physiotherapist Melissa DeSmet with Homebody Health has been offering virtual services throughout the COVID-19 shutdown.
When the province eased restrictions in May, she resumed some in-person services but with only around ten per cent of her clients.
“It’s heartbreaking when my clients say, ‘Can’t you just come in person?'” DeSmet said.  “I really have to think about whether or not the in-person contact is the only way they can have their needs addressed and whether or not the benefit of that close contact outweighs the risk.”
DeSmet said there’s no substitute for in-person sessions and she worries about vulnerable people who are in need of physiotherapy but who aren’t able to navigate the technology required.
“For the people who are getting lost and are risking not having access to the services they need to maintain them, I need caregivers to know that this is not business as usual for physiotherapy,” DeSmet said.
DeSmet contacted Caregivers Alberta which represents Alberta’s approximately one million unpaid caregivers to help get the word out about continuing physiotherapy. The group agrees the services are important whether it’s virtual or in-person.
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“We always look at each situation and you have to really identify what is best for your care recipient and yourself as a caregiver and your family,” Lisa Adams, an advisor with Caregivers Alberta, said.
The Physiotherapy Alberta College and Association issued guidance stating that in-person appointments can only proceed when the anticipated benefits outweigh the risks to patients and staff.
The College and Association also states the PPE must be used for the safe delivery of in-person services.
While the virtual sessions have worked well for some clients, they haven’t for others because of physical restrictions.
“I cannot stand up. I cannot be independent. So I don’t do it,” Butalia said.
Despite missing her regular in-person appointments, Butalia remains positive, taking it in stride, saying her compromised health would make the personal contact too risky.
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“I know there are a lot of people who would want them (in-person sessions) to come back very badly. I am in no rush.  It is better to be safe than to be sorry,” Butalia said.

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