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Support System | Augusta Health Matters
Ernie Fishback works independently and with group exercise classes at Augusta Health Fitness for overall health and joint mobility.

Augusta Health’s joint replacement program helps patients get back to mobility

Even though he’s nearing 70, age is making Ernie Fishback want to speed up instead of slow down. He loves dancing in Zumba, challenging himself in TRX classes and cycling whenever he can. But while time did not present an issue, his left knee was a different story.

Suffering from frequent pain and inflammation, he came to Augusta Health in December 2014 and found out there was no cartilage left in the joint. Wanting to get back on his exercise track, he opted for joint replacement surgery in January of 2015 and quickly discovered the advantages of coming to Augusta Health.

“There was such alignment in terms of working as a team,” he says. “Everything I needed, they provided, from prehab to surgery to physical therapy.”

What can patients like Fishback expect when they come to Augusta Health for knee or hip joint replacements? Here’s the typical pathway to healing:

Prehab fitness

The Prehab program offered at Augusta Health Fitness is designed to strengthen patients’ hip and knee muscles and improve overall mobility the month prior to surgery, without aggravating the inflamed joint. “This helps patients recover faster from surgery,” says Heather Moneymaker, medical fitness coordinator at Augusta Health Fitness. “Research has clearly demonstrated that the stronger the muscles are prior to surgery, the better patients do immediately after surgery, making for a smoother recovery.”

Fishback believes that Prehab fitness significantly improved his recovery. “Prehab had my muscles conditioned so that when I got to physical therapy, the muscle memory was there,” he says. “There was a lot less pain, too.”

Joint Center

Once it’s time to move to surgery, patients go through a pre-op class put together by the Augusta Health Joint Center, according to Beth Joyce, RN, BSN, care coordinator. An interdisciplinary team that includes nurses, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist helps patients understand what to expect. Each patient has a coach (usually a family member or close friend) who helps guide him or her through surgery and beyond. Joyce notes that the coach’s encouragement is one of the reasons that joint replacement patients do so well at Augusta Health.

After surgery, patients recover at the Joint Center, a facility with 12 private rooms and a staff that’s been specially trained in joint care issues. “Our unit functions as a wellness center,” says Joyce. “We’re focused on getting patients mobile as soon as possible and ready for outpatient physical therapy for faster healing.”

Outpatient therapy

After a two-to-three-day stay in the Joint Center, approximately 90 percent of patients are discharged to home; the vast majority of these patients start outpatient physical therapy at Augusta Health Outpatient Therapy (located adjacent to Augusta Health Fitness in the Wellness Center) or another therapy clinic of their choice.

According to Stephanie Mims, director of Therapy Services, patients typically attend outpatient physical therapy two to three times per week for four to eight weeks, depending on their progress. “During outpatient physical therapy, patients work closely with a physical therapist on an individualized program to improve their strength, motion and functional ability. Patients are discharged from therapy usually when they are able to exercise independently,” says Mims.


Once outpatient therapy is completed, patients have the option to continue on a fitness track at Augusta Health, where they can be around others who have had similar procedures. Many patients who participated in the Prehab program will return to Augusta Health Fitness where they are able to close the loop in their continuum of care.

“The fact that all of this is on one campus is unique,” says Sharon Stiteler, director of Augusta Health Fitness. “It offers our patients an integrated approach, which enhances healing and decreases stress that comes along with the unknown components of surgery.”

Although joint treatment steps might seem separate, joint care at Augusta Health is a team effort that’s filled with communication among many departments, including outpatient pharmacy. Patients aren’t shuttled from one professional to the next. Instead, they’re guided in their joint replacement journey, from diagnosis and Prehab through surgery, rehab and home care. It’s a picture of integrated care in action every step of the way to provide patients not only with the best care, but also trust and peace of mind, Mims suggests. “It’s a great example of how we all communicate with each other to benefit the patients,” says Mims.

“The whole program at Augusta Health is fantastic, because you know what to expect every step of the way,” says Fishback. “I’m having my other knee done in October and I’m actually excited about it, because Augusta Health’s care is second to none.”

Learn more about the Joint Center at augustahealth.com/joint-center. To see the schedule of classes at Augusta Health Fitness, view the calendar.