A unique partnership between OrthoIllinois, the YMCA of Rock River Valley and Judson University is helping transform the lives of patients who need hip or knee surgery before they ever reach the operating room.
It’s the brainchild of Megan Salser, a registered orthopedic technologist at OrthoIllinois who works with Dr. Michael Chmell, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who is also the medical director of the OrthoIllinois Surgery Center.
During the past few years, they noticed a trend – many patients who needed joint replacement surgery had to be deferred because of their weight. In recent years, an increased risk of medical and surgical complications in patients undergoing hip and knee replacement surgery has been correlated with obesity, as has a reduction in long-term success of such surgery.
Typically, patients were referred to a nutritionist and told to lose a certain amount of weight before having surgery. But Salser recognized they could do more for patients to help them be successful.
“Doctors may see patients and talk to them about their weight but never really address it. So we were the bearers of bad news. Nobody wants to hear they have to lose weight,” she said. “We needed to give them a sense of hope.
These goals are in line with OrthoIllinois’ mission of partnership with people to promote and restore active lives.
“We wanted to come up with a program for patients that was cost-effective, incorporated a mental health piece, incorporated the exercise and nutrition, but also connected them with people in the community who have the same struggles,” Salser explained.
Through research, meetings and discussions, the JOYNT program was born. The acronym represents the first letters of all three organizations involved in the partnership, as well as the journey – navigating and transformation.
Patients who qualify for the 12-week program are connected with nutrition education and aquatic fitness classes at the Y and group counseling through Judson. The cost is $120 in total, which covers all the services and an unlimited Y membership. Once the program is over, patients are offered a discounted monthly Y membership.
The first cohort started in October with five women. Salser said they purposely started small because of the newness of the program. Four women completed the program and two of them lost enough weight (one lost nearly 20 pounds and the other lost about 10 pounds) so they could have their knee surgeries in early 2019. Two of the women reenrolled in the next cohort to continue their journeys.
The program has become so popular that the next cohort has nearly 30 people signed up.
“Patients have told us they finally found people who care about their overall wellbeing rather than just fixing something that hurt,” Dr. Chmell said. “That’s the most amazing thing. Having such a comprehensive program and people navigating it together with the same goals helps everyone in the long run.”
Partners on the same mission
The partnership between OrthoIllinois, the Y and Judson was a natural fit from the start. Judson has a campus at the SwedishAmerican Riverfront YMCA and OrthoIllinois opened a rehabilitation clinic at the same location last year.
Salser earned her bachelor’s degree in human services at Judson and an alumni letter was the motivator to reach out when she was first researching what became the JOYNT program. Dr. Susan Wesner, associate professor and chair of professional studies at Judson, was her first call.
“All the pieces really came together,” Wesner recalled. “One of our desires in moving to the YMCA was to further connect with the community. This was a way to connect people through shared experiences and help them know they’re not alone in their journeys.”
Tim Hotchkiss, a Judson University graduate intern, facilitated the group. The format evolved a bit based on patients’ feedback. They met once a week for an hour each time, covering topics such as pain management and doing mindfulness training that included relaxation and breathing techniques.
At the Y, Salser connected with Trisha Tousant, vice president of operations. Patients focused on physical activity and healthy eating there – another natural fit.
“It was a natural and really easy partnership,” Tousant said. “The water classes are good for people struggling with knee and hip pain. They’re targeted for people with arthritis with the warm water and weightless feeling. Our nutritionist works with them on what healthy eating looks like and how to make good choices.
“We were very happy with the first group and pleasantly surprised on how quickly some folks saw progress. We were also extremely pleased with the cohesiveness of the three organizations working together. It’s so rare to see a true partnership like this.”