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Partnering to Improve Patient Care

Innovative partnerships give patients access to their communities, tools for wellness

Innovation has always been at the core of Shepherd Center’s culture. Strategic collaboration with industry, academic, and technology partners is one way Shepherd clinicians and researchers improve patient care and smooth the transition to a fulfilling life beyond Shepherd’s walls after a patient returns home.

“We're positioned as an innovation hub because we are leaders in the field. The Innovation Institute is a natural extension of that – giving us more capabilities, space, and resources to foster ingenuity,” says Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, Shepherd Center’s vice president of research and innovation. “We collaborate with like-minded partners to advance rehabilitation medicine and find better, more efficient ways of delivering care to improve the lives of the people we serve.”

The new 30,000-square-foot Innovation Institute, which will occupy the top floor of the Marcus Center for Advanced Rehabilitation on Shepherd Center’s main campus and is slated to open in 2025, will be a hub for collaboration, allowing Shepherd researchers to form more of these robust partnerships to advance patient care. The following are just a few of Shepherd’s partnerships that are improving patients’ and their families’ lives.

Virtual Visits

In 2020, Shepherd Center’s Recreation Therapy Program partnered with Aetos Imaging, a technology company that takes scans of real-world locations such as restaurants, stores, and stadiums. Then, they create a 3D digital replica of the location. Shepherd’s recreation therapists label the scans, flagging potential barriers that people using wheelchairs, for instance, may need to consider when visiting the venue — including locations of accessible entrances, table or counter height, or type of flooring. The scans are invaluable for patients and care partners who are anxious about navigating life outside Shepherd. Therapists also use the images as a follow-up after an outing to cover anything a patient or caregiver might have missed during training sessions.

Kelly Edens, CTRS, recreation therapy manager at Shepherd, compares the experience to playing a video game.

“It's a tool to provide education for patients and families to get from A to B on outings to places like a doctor's office, a library, a church, or a stadium. Reviewing the scans lets patients sharpen problem-solving skills, prepare for outings, and even advocate for themselves. We never want a former patient to avoid going somewhere just because they use a wheelchair. We want them to have access to their community,” she explains.

Connor Offutt, CEO of Aetos Imaging, says that working with Shepherd Center to help patients rebuild their lives resonates with the company’s core values and allows Aetos to explore a different application of the technology.

“People are increasingly using the Aetos Operate platform to reintegrate within their communities and gain confidence in the real world. Like Shepherd Center, it’s our hope — and responsibility — to utilize technology in ways that benefit our neighbors,” he says.

Accessible Wellness Content

Another innovative partnership that builds community and allows Shepherd clinicians to reach patients after they return home is Shepherd’s partnership with burnalong®, an online platform that offers on-demand health and wellness tools. The hospital and online wellness platform are collaborating to create and distribute specialty programming that makes wellness accessible to all.

Shepherd’s highly trained specialists are developing live and on-demand content geared toward people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, spine and chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological conditions. Currently, Shepherd patients, staff, and Burnalong users can access the classes.

“The great thing is that these classes span across all our specialties and are appropriate for many neurological diagnoses and patients who we serve at Shepherd,” says Marina Moldavskiy, ACRP-CP, Shepherd Center’s tele-wellness program manager and exercise physiologist.

Among the more than 50,000 classes are yoga, exercise, and financial wellness courses, among others, for people of all abilities.

“Alongside the unparalleled range of classes and programs, one of the biggest things that sets Burnalong apart is the social experience. You can see and hear each other live. You can join communities. It ensures people get the support they need,” says Daniel Freedman, president of commercial health and fitness, Tivity Health, and co-founder of Burnalong. 

“We are always thinking of ways to empower our patients before they return home,” Moldavskiy says. “When our patients are at Shepherd, there’s always a rehabilitation professional there to guide them or give them information. We hope this platform can help them feel empowered to continue when they leave our walls.” 

While Burnalong™ is creating an inclusive community, it also opens opportunities for further research. Shepherd Center’s Virginia C. Crawford Research Institute is piloting two studies to better understand the program’s benefits. One focuses on people with multiple sclerosis (MS). If you are interested in participating in MS research, scan the QR code for more information.  

Scan the QR code for more information about MS research.

A second study focuses on people who have sustained an acquired brain injury (ABI) and have been discharged from a hospital-based ABI program. The purpose of the study, conducted in collaboration with Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute in Texas, is to evaluate the potential efficacy of tele-wellness delivered through Burnalong™. For more information on ABI research or to volunteer, contact Erica Sutton at 404-367-1305 or

Written by Lindsey Rieben and Ruth Underwood

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.