VA looks to UPitt

Monday, August 31, 2009

PITTSBURGH -The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has tapped Mark Schmeler and his team at the University of Pittsburgh for a three-year, $3.64 million contract to review and update four rehab centers.

The project's needed for two reasons, according to Schmeler: First, the VA has noticed an increasing number of soldiers returning from the Middle East with blast injuries that require wheeled seating and mobility and assistive technology; second, it's under pressure, ever since a scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007, to improve services.

"It's not that they're doing a bad job," said Schmeler, director of continuing education for UPitt's Department of Rehabilitation Sciences & Technology. "They just want to be able to say their program is the most current."

Schmeler will review and update assistive technology labs at VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers (PRCs) in Richmond, Va.; Tampa, Fla.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Minneapolis. As part of the project, he will determine space and equipment needs, develop standards of practice, streamline delivery processes and implement outcome measurements.

Additionally, Schmeler will incorporate what he calls "telerehab"--using videoconferencing to mentor therapists on conducting evaluations and selecting equipment.

"Since the four sites are geographically diverse, and me and my team are in Pittsburgh, we need a way to be present on a more regular basis," Schmeler said. "But as time goes on, they'll get more comfortable and need us less and less. It's an effective way to provide the service."

UPitt's no stranger to the VA. The university already has a five-year, $5 million contract with the department, for example, to research and develop new wheeled seating and mobility technologies. hme