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Hospital Merges Medicine, Massage
Members of the mind-body medicine department at Retreat Hospital, in Richmond, Virginia, merge massage with mainstream medicine as they offer touch therapy to both staff and patients.

Initially, the mind-body medicine department focused more on the mind, conducting individual and group counseling, along with workshops that explored the connection between body and mind. About four years ago, a somatic-therapies program was developed, and four massage therapists joined the team.

"We see clients primarily on an outpatient basis," said Leslie Lytle, certified massage therapist and coordinator of somatic therapies for the hospital. "Structurally, there really isn’t a place for massage yet in the inpatient arena. There’s no reimbursement for it."

However, the existence of a mind-body medicine department within the hospital system has allowed the massage therapists to lay groundwork for integration.
"I think we’re still in the process of educating physicians about our services, in general," said Lytle. Focusing on the benefit of massage for specific patients, such as prenatal and post-partum women, has helped the somatic-therapies program gain acceptance, she said.

"We were able to create a brochure, target specific problems and say, ‘This is how we can help,’" said Lytle. "Because we’re affiliated with the hospital, doctors are very accepting of having our brochures in their offices."

Lytle said the somatic-therapies program will continue to promote massage for certain conditions, such as chronic pain and fibromyalgia.

"We’re trying gradually to find ways to integrate into the system, but it’s slow because we’re paving the way," she said.

At one of Retreat Hospital’s four sister facilities, massage for kidney donors has become a "standing order" due to the work of massage therapists from the mind-body medicine department, said Lytle.

"Kidney donors usually feel like they’ve been hit by a Mac truck," she said. By offering these patients massage and conducting pain-relief surveys, which asks patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10, the massage therapists show that their touch could reduce pain and help patients sleep better.

But patients aren’t the only people the program aims to help. "One of our real focuses is working to integrate our services so we’re serving both staff and patients," said Lytle. "If we take care of our employees, our employees will be better able to take care of the patients. We want to think holistically."

A chair-massage program offers hospital employees 20 percent off the bodywork, which can be paid for through payroll.

Linda Burr, director of the mind-body medicine department, said the hospital staff’s attitude toward massage is changing. "I think they’re beginning to open their eyes more," said Burr. "[Massage] is really a community and population-driven part of health care these days."

 – Brandi Schlossberg

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