Practice Makes Perfect: Education Helps Patients Go Home with Confidence


At HealthSouth Nittany Valley Rehabilitation Hospital, when a patient is admitted for rehabilitation after an illness, injury or surgery, and has a heart failure diagnosis, they get the benefit of the Heart Failure Program. This HealthSouth rehabilitation program has earned the Joint Commission's Disease-Specific Care Certification, the gold seal of approval in health care. Through an interdisciplinary team approach, patients receive intensive therapy, education, and discharge planning to return home or to the community.

The Heart Failure Program at HealthSouth has a strong educational component, including classes taught by a nurse, a registered dietitian, a psychologist, and a pharmacist. Families are encouraged to attend. Patients are taught about sodium intake, medications, coping with heart failure, and the importance of daily weight monitoring. The interdisciplinary team also teaches patients about foods to avoid, the name of their water pill, how to weigh themselves, and symptoms to share with their health care providers.

In conjunction with the Heart Failure Program, HealthSouth's occupational therapy department is taking patient education one step further. They started the "Heart Failure Group" - therapists committed to helping patients with heart failure function better at home and in the community.

According to Occupational Therapist Heather Carpenter, "In this group, heart failure patients practice tasks such as weighing themselves, preparing and making a healthy meal, and managing the symptoms of heart failure. That practice helps patients feel more confident about going home and carrying out a heart-healthy regimen." Patients also learn exercise tips, and skills such as how to transfer safely to the scale, and how to navigate in the kitchen.

One of HealthSouth's therapy gyms includes a kitchen, where patients practice what they learn about nutrition. The therapy staff teamed up with HealthSouth Registered Dietitian, Caryll DeFrate, to plan a heart-healthy meal that the patients prepare. "They cook healthy meals like meatless chili and herb crusted cod," says DeFrate. "We also answer questions that arise about heart-healthy eating." Patients learn how to modify recipes to reduce sodium, and make good choices when dining out.

The staff is implementing fun activities to help patients learn about heart failure, including a bingo game. A newsletter focused on cooking and nutrition was created for patients and members of HealthSouth's Heart Failure Support Group. DeFrate adds, "We want them to succeed when they get home, and if they practice while they are here, they will be more confident at the time of discharge."

HealthSouth's Heart Failure Support Group is open to the public, serving patients, family members, and those caring for someone with a heart failure diagnosis. Meetings are held at HealthSouth on the fourth Monday of every month at 4:00 p.m. Meetings are not held during the months of December or January. Contact Traci Curtorillo, CRRN®, nurse manager, at 1 800 842-6026.

February is American Heart Month. For more information about HealthSouth's Heart Failure program, call 1 800 846-6026 or visit