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An innovative program tackling on-the-job injuries gets people back to work safely and sooner.

One day in October 2020, paramedic Robin Gable felt a sharp pain in his lower back as he lifted a patient onto a gurney. Two days later, the pain became so excruciating Robin took a leave from work. He wanted one thing: to get back to work pain-free and fully functional.

Since Robin’s injury happened on the job, he was admitted to the Good Shepherd at Work program. This innovative program is a team-based approach to occupational health, offering inpatient and outpatient physical therapy from the date of injury and beyond.

“When we get a call for an injured worker, we try to get them in within 24 to 48 hours,” says Charlie Eberling, a physical therapist and regional outpatient rehabilitation manager. “Through the level of skill we provide, we have exceptional outcomes and can get patients back to work sooner.” 

During Robin’s evaluation at Good Shepherd Physical Therapy – Fogelsville, one of 20 sites offering Good Shepherd at Work, Charlie determined that Robin likely had a herniated disc in his spine. Robin was eager to return to work, so Charlie and the physical therapy team developed a comprehensive care plan to help Robin reach his goal as quickly and safely as possible. Because of the physical demands of his job transferring patients, Robin had to be able to lift, push, pull and carry. “We worked on doing box lifts, making him pick up things from the ground, squat down and push a cart that simulated a gurney,” says Charlie. 

“It went very well,” says Robin. “Every day, I reported less muscle pain and less nerve pain.”

After more than nine weeks putting in the hard work to fully recover, Robin was back in uniform and on the job with no restrictions on January 12. “He’s doing great,” says Charlie.

What stands out most to Robin about his experience at Good Shepherd? The people.

“The person at the front window talked to me as if she’d known me for a few years,” says Robin, noting that the therapists have their patients’ best interests at heart striking just the right balance between challenging and encouraging them to achieve their goals. “I’ve known physical therapists in the past who want to push you; they act like they’re an exercise trainer,” says Robin. “At Good Shepherd, I never got a sense that they wanted to move onto the next patient or that I was just a number.”

Good Shepherd at Work: Meeting a Need

The Good Shepherd at Work program began in 2018 when Good Shepherd saw an opportunity in in the occupational medicine, or “occmed,” market that hadn’t been addressed in the Lehigh Valley. Since early 2019, the number of outpatient visits for occmed services at Good Shepherd has grown from 3 to 10 percent.

Once a hard-to-find service, functional capacity evaluations (FCEs) are core to the program. Charlie Eberling is one of seven certified work capacity evaluators in the state. Five other Good Shepherd therapists are working on their certification. 

Charlie says Good Shepherd plans to expand and grow the program with such services as on-site consultations at work places or even on the road. Also under consideration is post-job-offer testing which can reduce the risk of hiring someone physically unable to perform the job. Good Shepherd has contracts with all major third-party contractors and insurance companies, and is the only rehabilitation organization in the Eastern Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. “We have meetings with heads of contracting companies and labor departments so we can see what’s changing in their world and adapt to it,” says Charlie.

For information on Good Shepherd at Work, call 1-888-44-REHAB.