Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center in Buffalo, New York has been utilizing the SafeGait 360º® overhead dynamic body-weight support and fall protection specifically for cancer patients.

Credited with establishing the model for today’s multidisciplinary approach to cancer care, Roswell Park is the only comprehensive cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Upstate New York, and one of only four NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in all of New York.

With teams that cared for more than 46,000 patients in the last year, Roswell Park helps set international standards in cancer care through its role as a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and consistently earns patient-satisfaction scores that are among the highest in the country.

We spoke with Bryan Wittmeyer, Roswell Park’s Director of Rehabilitation Therapy & Wellness, who wanted to share the unique and revolutionary ways his team utilizes the SafeGait 360º for various patient populations, as well as the effects the technology has had on his facility’s productivity and efficiency..

Can you tell me a little bit about the history and mission of Roswell Park?

Roswell Park is a dedicated cancer center located in Buffalo, New York. For over 120 years, Roswell has provided cancer care services for Western New York as well as the entire region. We offer both inpatient and outpatient services for all cancer diagnoses at all ages – pediatric through geriatric – as our patients face functional limitations and impairments from both the disease itself, as well as from the treatments they undergo to help cure them.

What is the primary patient population you are using the Safegait for?

We try to utilize the SafeGait as much as possible, we use it both for our inpatients, who are admitted to the hospital, and our outpatients, who come in for care. However, we have really found a niche within our bone marrow transplant patient population. Those patients who undergo a transplant here at Roswell Park can often be admitted to the hospital for periods of 4-6 weeks and can face quite a bit of debilitation due to the procedure itself and the medications they may take. These patients come down from our inpatient unit to our outpatient clinic to start early mobilization and work with improving their function right from the very beginning, or what we call “day zero” of a transplant, so we make sure that we are doing everything that we can to move them forward from a functional and quality-of-life standpoint. This is a group that we’ve been focusing on using the SafeGait with because we’ve seen a lot of success so far in what it has been able to do for that patient population.

Why do therapists choose to use the Safegait with these patients?

These patients, and others admitted as well, tend to be very limited functionally. Prior to having the Safegait progression of therapy, we might start with some simple bed mobility exercises and then sitting activities, but it required typically 2 sometimes 3 therapists to work on standing. We would do that for a significant number of days, sometimes longer, to then trying to ambulate the patient with assistive devices and, again, multiple therapists. With the SafeGait, we have the patient transported down to the outpatient clinic, and then get them up on the first day with one therapist utilizing the SafeGait. The patients can do more earlier on, and they’re able to do it typically with just one therapist. From a patient perspective, our outcomes are certainly improving because we’re mobilizing patients and doing much more intensive therapy much earlier on. From a therapy perspective, first, it’s safer because we have the SafeGait helping to stabilize patients, but second, from an efficiency standpoint, we have one therapist working with a patient as opposed to 2 or 3 assisting in different areas just to be able to get the patient to either stand or start to ambulate.

What patients will you be focusing on expanding the use to next?

Beyond the transplant patients, for patients who have major functional deficits, who are really struggling, we are trying to provide them with intensive care on the inpatient units with 2 or 3 therapists, but if they are not progressing in a manner that we like—we have started to bring those patients down to the SafeGait. That includes all types of patients – lymphoma patients, some of our ICU patients, and even some of the surgical patients who, for whatever reason, face some kind of complication following their procedure. We are also starting to use the SafeGait a little bit more with our outpatient population in a more progressive, intensive way. Some of our patients who, obviously they’re coming to outpatient so functionally they’re doing better than some of the patients we discussed earlier, but maybe they have balance issues, maybe they have higher level goals moving on down the road, maybe they’re involved in athletics – we’re starting to do higher level balance exercises using the SafeGait to make sure that they can do those things safely. Quite honestly, we’re always looking at new ways to utilize the SafeGait and new patient populations to utilize it with, and we’re starting to see benefits as we do that.

It’s common to work on walking and standing balance activities with dynamic body weight support systems, but have you seen or know of any creative tasks the therapists have had the patients do?

Some of the outpatients who have higher level goals who are younger or involved in athletics, we mimic some of the different things that they normally do. So we have them starting to do squats, one-legged squats, various exercises on a Bosu ball. These are definitely interesting to see as they’re next-level progressions from some of the basic sit-to-stand, ambulation exercises we are doing with our lower-level patients. Another creative task that they were doing just the other day, I actually walked in and got to watch it, was, with a specific patient, they were using the SafeGait on the patient as they were also using a treadmill. This patient’s goal is actually to go home and use their treadmill, so we were able to help prepare them for that. We do often use the SafeGait with a small three step stair system as well, and we will have patients do that, not only for stair navigation, but also for exercises like ‘step up, step down’ and calf raises to start to build up some lower-body strength. Again, focusing on some basic functions that the patient will need to be discharged from the hospital, but then also working on specific goals that specific patients may have, in addition to higher functioning patients with higher-level goals, who we have doing difficult balance exercises in a safe environment.