For many, booking an appointment with a physiotherapist involves little more than getting a physician referral, making an appointment with a therapist and submitting an online health insurance form for reimbursement.

But for clients of the Lighthouse, a community-based organization that provides emergency shelter, supported living and affordable housing to those in need, accessing physiotherapy is next to impossible due to a lack of medical insurance, financial means and transportation to get to appointments.

Lacey Nairn Pederson, physiotherapist at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Lacey Nairn Pederson, physiotherapist at St. Paul’s Hospital.

“People who have a lower socioeconomic status are not necessarily going to be able to access services like physiotherapy,” says Lacey Nairn Pederson, a physiotherapist at St. Paul’s Hospital and board member of the Saskatchewan Physiotherapy Association (SPA). Nairn was recently involved in a four-month pilot that ran from April 10 to August 7 at the Lighthouse.

“I got involved in December of 2014 when the Lighthouse contacted the SPA to ask for volunteers in the physiotherapy community,” says Nairn, explaining that the SPA was able to find five physiotherapists from CBI Health Group to volunteer every Friday during the pilot.

“I did a few educational sessions with the volunteer physiotherapists to help them get comfortable with the types of injuries and illnesses they might encounter at the Lighthouse, such as respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis,” explains Nairn, who provided respiratory mentorship to the volunteers throughout the pilot.

“One client had cystic fibrosis,” says Nairn. “This person didn’t have a fixed address and was not linked with available resources in the community, so the volunteer therapist informed them about the resources available and showed them breathing techniques to help them cough and clear out their phlegm.”

Another therapist improved the quality of life of a woman with urinary incontinence by providing exercises and problem-solving techniques that helped her feel more comfortable in social situations, and a third therapist treated a man at risk of a fall due to his difficulty walking after suffering a stroke.

“Having physiotherapists at the Lighthouse might prevent people from coming to the emergency department, because it allows us to invest in the client’s care in the community before they get injured further and have to come to the hospital,” says Nairn, who is eager to find out if her hypothesis is supported by the data that was gathered during the pilot.

She and her team are in the process of hiring someone to evaluate the data, with the intent of applying for funding for a permanent physiotherapy position at the Lighthouse in the future.