More MS news articles for Nov 2001

For special women

New Magee clinic cares to needs of disabled

Tuesday, November 06, 2001
By Anita Srikameswaran, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A new clinic at Magee-Womens Hospital got a thorough inspection last week by tough critics: the physically disabled women who helped design it.

There are a few wrinkles to be ironed out before the Comprehensive Healthcare Center for Women with Physical Disabilities opens Nov. 15, but overall, the judges were delighted by what they saw.

The center was created out of concern that accessibility issues discourage disabled women from getting routine primary and gynecologic care, such as mammograms and Pap smears, explained Karyll Davis, one of six disabled women on an advisory board that helped plan the facility.

Davis, 53, of Churchill, was diagnosed 16 years ago with myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes muscular weakness. Six years ago, doctors found that she also had multiple sclerosis, another autoimmune disease in which scarring of nerves can lead to visual disturbances, coordination problems or paralysis.

She typically uses a motorized scooter, but is able to stand and walk for short periods. Her husband pushes her wheelchair for her so she doesn't have to use her own power.

"My left side of my body is a lot weaker than my right side, so if I did try to propel the wheelchair, I would just go around in circles," explained a laughing Davis.

For her and others like her, going to a doctor's appointment requires planning and perseverance. Where can I park? How do I get from the parking lot to the office? Will there be a valet to help get my wheelchair out of the trunk? Where are the elevators in the building?

The discussions of the advisory committee opened Davis' eyes to other issues.

"I had never considered the fact that if you can't stand up, how would you have a mammogram?" she said. "I can stand with a little help and I can get on to an examination table. But not all women are able to do those things."

Davis has heard women say they forgo routine health screening because they haven't figured out a way around such barriers.

Valet parking is available at Magee. Patients don't have to hunt for an elevator, either, because the center's entrance is near the admissions desk, across the first floor lobby. The door can be opened by pushing a large square button on the wall. Hallways are wide enough for easy maneuvering.

"It's one thing to get through a doorway, it's another thing to get in there and realize you can't turn around to get out," Davis noted. "I've taken off a lot of [door] molding in my time."

Clinic staff showed off one of their two universally accessible examining beds, known as Welner tables.

The table can be lowered to 20 inches from the ground and raised to standard height by touching a foot pad. Similarly, the back can lie flat or sit upright. It also has handrails for safety and to ease a patient's transfer from wheelchair to bed.

"This just couldn't be better," said Lucy Spruill, another advisory committee member who uses a motorized wheelchair. "It's got these nice handholds, it's a wonderful height and it will raise to a height that's comfortable for the nurse practitioner or physician."

The exam bed is designed so that a patient can slide onto its foot or sides.

"You can get on this table in the right position, rather than getting on in the middle and trying to scoot down, which can be very difficult," Spruill noted.

The mammography equipment allows testing while patients sit. Special scales to weigh a woman sitting in a wheelchair will be available even when the clinic isn't open for regular appointments.

Bone density measurement, blood draws for lab tests and counseling also will be on site. The staff has been trained for the needs of disabled patients.

Another attention-getting convenience in the clinic was the door that swung all the way in or out of the private restroom. More room for maneuvering a wheelchair is created when the door is swung out, which is atypical.

The women talked to center director Pam Dodge about the need for a grab bar on the door handle to minimize reaching, as well as making other minor adjustments at the clinic, such as lowering mirrors and positioning bulletin boards.

For now, the center shares space with other Magee clinics.

Start-up and operating costs are being funded with a three-year, $192,340 grant from the FISA Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports projects for disabled adults and children.

"We expect it to grow," said medical director Dr. Jaye Hefner. "I have every expectation that a few years down the road, we'll be in our own space."

More information

Information about the center will be sent to primary care providers in the city. Women can come to the clinic for specific exams, such as mammography, or for all their primary care.

The center will begin scheduling appointments after Thanksgiving. Call 412-647-4747.

Copyright © 1997-2001 PG Publishing