Primary Care for Spinal Cord Injury Patients at Denver Health
June 08, 2021
"Up to this point, I've never been in a doctor's office that had an accessible table – so that's a pretty big deal," said Denver Health primary care patient Oliver Giminaro. Giminaro has lived with a spinal cord injury for nearly 30 years and said before coming to Denver Health, seeking primary care was a big challenge and it went well beyond having accessible equipment.
Giminaro continued, "I've always had trouble finding primary care. It's hard to find primary care in general and especially when you have a disability, finding someone who understands you. Most of the time, I was educating the doctors and letting them know what's going on."
As part of Denver Health's mission and vision to provide the best care for all patients in Denver and the surrounding area, we now have two options for spinal cord injury patients to receive their primary care:
- The Spinal Cord Injury Primary Care Clinic on Denver Health's main campus
- Through Denver Health's partnership with the Chanda Center for Health in Lakewood
Both clinics serve patients who use mobility devices, such as a wheelchair or crutches, and provide regular primary care with an emphasis on specific medical conditions faced by patients with spinal cord injuries. Giminaro, who suffered a C4 spinal cord injury at just 15 years old when he jumped off of a friend's deck, has received care at both clinics and currently sees Patricia Meyer, DO, physician lead, at the Spinal Cord Injury Primary Care Clinic. After the accident back in 1992, Giminaro lost all sensation below his chest area and some mobility in his arms. He now uses a wheelchair to get around and relies on Denver Health's specialized equipment such as a Hoyer Lift, adjustable exam tables and wheelchair scales to have a proper primary care visit. He's been getting his care at Denver Health for more than a decade and coming to the Spinal Cord Injury Primary Care Clinic since it opened in March 2020.
"It's important to have a place for our patients who have access concerns so that they can get equitable care," said Dr. Meyer. "We see a lot of patients with disabilities who don't have a primary care physician or they don't get some of the normal screenings that are recommended for them, and so we are able to do that with this clinic."
Dr. Meyer's team includes:
- Physicians trained in family medicine with additional interest and study in conditions specific to patients with spinal cord injuries
- Physical therapists with expertise in inpatient spinal cord injury rehabilitation who can provide more specific musculoskeletal evaluation, wheelchair evaluations and mobility assessments
- A nurse care coordinator who works to evaluate patient needs and assist with medical equipment needs
"In general, spinal cord injury patients and patients with other disabilities really do not have great access to primary care, especially in adulthood," said Denver Health Spinal Cord Injury Primary Care Clinic physician Alicia Wong, MD. "There are physical barriers obviously, but also culturally, it's hard to find disability-competent providers."
For Dr. Wong, the work is personal. "I started this work mainly out of my own experience as a person with a disability, being both in advocacy and seeing a huge need for health care equity for people with disabilities overall, so being able to be a part of this clinic is kind of the fruition of that."
Dr. Meyer agreed, "I've been in situations where I can't get a patient up on a table, I've seen the problems and barriers to care within my own practice and so it's been an amazing learning experience for me, it has been a real privilege to be able to care for patients with spinal cord injuries and just adding to that body of knowledge so that I can provide great, equitable care for everyone."
"At Denver Health, they have a great team and everyone works together – it's unique to have the physical therapist working together with the doctor right in the office," Giminaro said. In addition to getting his primary care at Denver Health, he takes advantage of the wide array of specialty services Denver Health provides right on campus, such as visiting a cardiologist and having the ability to transfer him onto the x-ray table.
"There's all these secondary conditions related to my spinal cord injury," Giminaro explained. "Heart issues, bladder issues, skin issues – any one of those has potential to throw you for a loop, so having a doctor that I can see that's aware of all that stuff, and then can get me in an accessible exam room – it's revolutionary, its very unique."
Megan Mitchell, DPT, a physical therapist at the Spinal Cord Injury Primary Care Clinic said including therapists in the clinic, "allows us to bring in subject matter experts from multiple areas of practice to educate and collaborate and make sure that we are approaching patient care from multiple angles so that we are providing the best care that we have access to."
Giminaro said he was impressed from the moment he came to the Clinic. During his initial appointment, he spent a significant amount of one-on-one time with Dr. Meyer, just so she could get to know him. "It's important because each spinal cord injury is unique. Getting to have that big conversation upon intake is really important. At other clinics, you only get five minutes with the doctor, but here, we were able to discuss my whole body, from head to toe, along with my emotional state, right there during that first visit."
Giminaro recommends either Denver Health location to any spinal cord injury patient who needs to find a doctor for their primary care.
"It's really refreshing to know that someone you're talking to has that knowledge and that experience and the understanding of a spinal cord injury patient."
New patients are currently being accepted at Denver Health's Spinal Cord Injury Primary Care Clinic and at the Chanda Center for Health. Our team can see you for a consultation or as supplemental support for your current primary care provider. Providers at Denver Health and throughout Colorado are encouraged to refer their patients to the clinic.