New physical rehab hospital uses innovative tech
Michael Lowery pushed off gingerly at first and then gained confidence as he walked upright with the assistance of Andago, a mobile robot in the rehab gym of Central Virginia’s newest hospital.
Strapped into the machine by a harness, Lowery, a 38-year-old Martinsville native suffering from paralysis, made his way around the track at Sheltering Arms Institute — a hospital in Goochland County dedicated solely to physical rehabilitation.
Lowery is one of nearly 400 people who have been treated at the facility since it opened in mid-June in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. He came after injuring his neck while weightlifting, which paralyzed him from the waist down. After three hours of physical therapy per day for three months, Lowery could move his thigh muscles and his right foot from side to side. “My goal,” he says, “is that I’m walking one day.”
Robotics, electrical stimulation and body-weight support systems to enhance physical training are among the advanced technologies available at the $95 million, 114-bed hospital located on a 46-acre campus in West Creek Medical Park. “There’s nothing really like this in the whole mid-Atlantic,” says Stephanie Sulmer, the institute’s vice president of marketing and business development.
A joint venture between Sheltering Arms and VCU Health, the hospital is a destination for survivors of strokes, spinal cord injuries and brain injuries, including out-of-state patients, Sulmer says.
Opening a hospital during a pandemic required intensive planning. Its four major units are opening in phases, and the spinal cord wing is still waiting for ventilators, which have been in short supply. As of late September, the hospital was operating with a capacity of 90 beds and had not experienced any active cases of COVID-19, says Sulmer.
Medical office expansion has been a primary driver in Richmond’s commercial real estate market. While the future of general office developments remains uncertain, with the pandemic forcing many employees to work from home, medical care is an essential business that’s expected to grow.
“We’re seeing a lot of the larger practices looking to [plant] a flag in all the suburbs of Richmond,” says Malcolm Randolph, a senior vice president with Colliers International in Richmond and the broker who assisted Sheltering Arms in finding its site along the Short Pump retail corridor.