Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute creates post-COVID rehabilitation program to help survivors


Some people bounce back from COVID-19 in a week or so, while others continue to experience shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness or even muscle or neurologic complications long after the virus is gone. People who have spent weeks or months on ventilators can experience profound long-term effects.

To help these patients, Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute has created the Post-COVID Rehabilitation Program to enable patients to recover as fully as possible from the lingering effects of the novel coronavirus. The program is a key part of the COVID recovery services available through the Hackensack Meridian Health COVID Recovery Center. The center provides medical support to recovered COVID-19 patients in New Jersey and the surrounding Tri-State Area as they continue on their path to health. Based on the screening results, the physician will create a customized care plan and connect the patient with specialists if needed, according to information provided by Hackensack Meridian Health.

The COVID-19 virus affects the lungs, but also the heart and kidneys. COVID-related changes in the blood can also cause stroke and embolism. Some patients suffer cognitively and psychologically.

The JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute program helps post-COVID patients who have been hospitalized with serious illness as well as those who recovered at home but continue to experience symptoms, according to the statemet. Just a handful of elite rehabilitation institutes such as JFK Johnson have post-COVID rehabilitation programs.

“Some post-COVID patients are severely debilitated,” said Talya Fleming, M.D., medical director of the Aftercare Program and Stroke Recovery Program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. “They have arm and leg weakness and trouble with activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing. They need continuous oxygen as well as physical and occupational therapy.”

Other patients continue to feel fatigued and weak even though they never required hospitalization.

Sara Cuccurullo, M.D., vice president and medical director of JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, and physician-in-chief of Rehabilitative Care Transformation Services at Hackensack Meridian Health, recalled a patient who thought he was recovered from COVID. But weeks later the patient found he could not get up the stairs or walk around the neighborhood as he could before his illness. An examination found he had low blood oxygen levels and needed pulmonary rehabilitation to focus on strengthening and conditioning his lungs, according to the statement.

Rehabilitation also helps more severely impacted patients.

“We train you like an athlete and help you strengthen and condition your peripheral musculature and build your endurance,” Cuccurullo said in the statement. “We had one patient who was on a ventilator for seven weeks. His health was severely compromised, but we were able to help rehabilitate him and significantly improve his overall function.”

JFK Johnson’s rehabilitation team members include specialized physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians as well as highly trained pulmonary, cardiac, neurologic, physical and occupational therapists and nurses.

JFK Johnson has implemented many new protocols. All therapy is conducted in a safety-first environment. It has expanded the footprint of its rehabilitation services to space patients at least six-feet apart. Patients who need to exercise aerobically and aggressively do so on recumbent bikes and other pieces of equipment that are spaced 12 feet apart, according to the statement.

Patients will be given masks upon entering the rehabilitation institute, and rooms will be sanitized between each patient after visits to a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. Patients also have the option of telehealth visits, when appropriate.

The Post-COVID Rehabilitation Program uses the full range of specialized programs at JFK Johnson.

“The virus impacts people differently,” Fleming said in the statement. “So to provide everyone with the best outcome, we use all of our expertise: neurologic, pulmonary, cardiac, medical, psychological and social. For many people who have had COVID-19, the negative COVID test is the beginning of a new journey.”

For more information or to make an appointment, call 732-321-7000, ext. 62134.