North Arundel Hospital is starting the county's first comprehensive rehabilitation program for victims suffering neurological damage fromserious car accidents.

The Glen Burnie hospital teamed up with the University of Maryland Medical System to open the outpatient clinicafter discovering that a startling number of county residents are hurt in major car crashes each year.

Between 10 and 12 percent of accident victims rushed to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center at University Hospital in Baltimore live in Anne Arundel County, said Nancy Greenawald, director of the new program. She blamed the high rate on the area's congested road network, which includes the heavily traveled Baltimore Beltway and Interstate 97.

People who are severely hurt in an accident or suffer a stroke often need weeks of inpatient treatment followed by extensive physical and occupational therapy. Recovery takes time and hinges on intensivetherapy, Greenawald said.

Until now, Anne Arundel residents had to go to Baltimore, Ellicott City or even out of state to receive long-term treatment for brain trauma, spinal-chord injuries or debilitating neurological problems like strokes. The new clinic, scheduled to open in the hospital's Empire Medical Building in late July , will offer everything from speech therapy to psychological services under oneroof.

Recovering stroke and accident victims frequently are disoriented and need help with the simplest tasks when they return home, Greenawald said.

A team of physical and occupational therapists will work to help recovering patients get back on their feet. Repeating body movements and daily household tasks, such as getting dressed or cooking dinner, helps people relearn activities.

"When you're medically stable and able to return, you can bathe and dress, but that may fatigue you for the rest of the day," Greenawald said. "That's all you can do. If you're a construction worker, that's not going to get you back to climbing iron.

"You go through an activity they've forgot and give them clues or a check list," Greenawald said. "What happens is the brain forges new pathways. This is a whole new area in medical technologies that's just coming to the forefront."

While somepatients can recover completely, others are left disabled by car accidents or strokes, she acknowledged. They frequently become despondent because they can't return to their old jobs and lifestyles.

Psychologists will work with those patients to help them rebuild their self-image and consider alternative careers.

North Arundel Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical System each chipped in $75,000to start the new program. The hospital also spent about $100,000 outfitting the clinic with equipment, including modern physical therapy tools and health-club machines.

The program will be part of a growing network of hospitals offering comprehensive rehabilitation on an outpatient basis, said Susan Ward, North Arundel's vice president of operations. Other hospitals across the state are expected to follow suit and create independent rehabilitation programs with help from theUniversity of Maryland.

While Maryland has one of the best shock-trauma treatment systems in the nation, it lags behind other states in providing outpatient rehabilitation for victims of car accidents, Ward said. Some regions of Pennsylvania boast more than 35 programs similar to the one planned by North Arundel. In contrast, Maryland onlyhas a few scattered sites -- including Bowie, Towson and Ellicott City.

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