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CBIS: Special Tree Team Members Committed to Best Practices

Congratulations to the eight Special Tree team members who recently passed the exam to become Certified Brain Injury Specialists (CBIS).  They join 120 Special Tree team members who have earned the voluntary certification since 2004.  It requires class time, extensive preparation, and passing a national exam administered by the American Academy for the Certification of Brain Injury Specialists (AACBIS).  Initiated by the BIAA the AACBIS program was established in 1996 to improve the quality of care given to individuals with brain injuries through the continuing education of those who work in the field.  Special Tree team members are strongly committed to learning about best practices and to applying this knowledge to client care and rehabilitation.   The CBIS certification is voluntary and is available to all levels of professionals.

Highlights from the SCI Mobility + Recreation Expo

People from all over metro Detroit gathered at the NeuroCare Campus seeking inspiration and greater independence at Special Tree’s 5th annual SCI Mobility + Recreation Expo.   The Expo brought together 30 vendors who provide products, services, and recreational activities to help benefit and enrich the lives of people living with spinal cord injury and other disabilities.

Attendees enjoyed beautiful weather as they explored all the Expo had to offer.  They learned about mobility options including wheelchair accessible vehicles and all terrain wheelchairs.   They networked with vendors that provide home modifications and driving rehabilitation.  They tried out hand-cycle bikes and adaptive tennis equipment.  They watched hard-hitting, fast-paced games of wheelchair rugby and basketball.   Some got their wheelchairs tuned-up while others learned more about traveling with disabilities.

“The Expo is an opportunity to bring people together to show them what’s possible after a brain or spinal cord injury – which is just about everything,” said Todd Hammons, Special Tree’s Accessibility Advisor who spearheads the event.  Todd has spent the 29 years since he sustained a spinal cord injury at age 19 finding ways to do just about everything he wants to do and helping others do the same.

This year’s Expo was a big success with more vendors and an increase in attendance.  Local news coverage helped to build buzz for the event including a story that was featured on-line  and in the Sunday print editions of the News Herald, Oakland Press, and Macomb Daily newspapers. WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Action News interviewed Jack Richert and Todd Hammons on their Sunday morning news broadcast, and FOX2 News stopped by the event and did a recap on the 5pm news broadcast.

The Expo wouldn’t be possible without a tremendous team effort.  Many thanks to the team that made it all possible including Todd and Special Tree’s Facilities Maintenance Team — Director Jim Richert, Abby Whitford, Krystal Thompson, Dan Button, Shawn Opperman, Mark Blevins, Jeff Messersmith.

“We are honored to host this inspiring event every summer,” said Jim.  “Special Tree’s focus is always on possibility rather than obstacle; having Todd as a part of our team helps us keep that focus. We have an unwavering commitment to bring together brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation organizations and vendors in one place through this event, so we can work together for the greater good.”

IN THE NEWS: SCI Mobility Expo on Fox 2 News

Thank you FOX 2 Detroit for stopping by our SCI Mobility & Recreation Expo! Here's a recap from the 5:00 news broadcast.


New Program Helps Patients Drive Toward Success

Driving is a skill that many patients want to regain after their injury.  Special Tree’s new Pre-Driving Program helps individuals take the first step toward driving again by making sure they’re safe and ready to get behind the wheel for on-the-road training. 

“We all spend so much time behind the wheel that we take for granted the underlying skills involved,” said OT Bev Zimmerman, who helped develop the program with a multi-disciplinary team at Special Tree.  “A TBI can alter many off-the-road skills needed to be a safe and successful driver such as concentration, memory, physical stamina, visual perception, problem-solving, and more.” 

The Pre-Driving Program helps rev-up those essential off-the-road skills through a six-week program that includes a clinical assessment with an OT, speech pathologist, and/or psychologist and a multi-disciplinary, clinician-led treatment plan with individualized goals to address skill deficits.  Individuals are reevaluated after six-weeks with recommendations from the therapy team for more treatment or a behind-the-wheel evaluation with a Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialist.   The program officially launched in August and is being offered at Special Tree’s Troy, Romulus, and Midland outpatient clinics.

In addition to individualized OT, speech, and psychology treatment, the program also encompasses Special Tree’s Vision Therapy program which includes (if needed) a formal evaluation with a Behavioral Optometrist and Vision Therapy with a Special Tree OT.   The therapy team is also using advanced technology to provide data-driven assessments and treatment including CogniFit Brain Fitness and Simulated Driving Computers at each outpatient location.

Stay tuned for more updates about this exciting new program at Special Tree!


Did You Hear? Special Tree Earns Another Three-Year CARF Accreditation

Special Tree has earned another accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), the highest level accreditation given to rehabilitation facilities.

CARF is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization, which works to ensure that high standards of care and quality are met by its accredited rehabilitation providers.  Special Tree voluntarily pursues CARF accreditation for its programs and services every three years.  To earn this internationally recognized accreditation, a team of CARF surveyors visited Special Tree to evaluate our programs, services, staff, policies, and procedures to make sure they met CARF standards. 

“Special Tree first earned CARF accreditation in 1991, and we're thankful to our team for helping to grow and expand it to more facilities and programs over time,” said Chief Quality Officer Mark MacAleese.  This year Special Tree earned accreditation for all the programs and services that were surveyed which included adding our Carrington Residence in Monroe, Middle Branch Residence in Macomb, and Home Health Care to the list as well as a new CARF accreditation for our Vocational Services as a Brain Injury Specialty Program. 

Special Tree’s new three-year accreditation includes the following programs and services:

Inpatient Rehabilitation Programs – Skilled Nursing:  Brain Injury Program (Adults)
Interdisciplinary Outpatient Medical Rehabilitation Programs:  Brain Injury Program (Adults)
Interdisciplinary Outpatient Medical Rehabilitation Programs:  Brain Injury Programs (Pediatric Specialty Program)
Residential Rehabilitation Programs:  Brain Injury Program (Adults)
Residential Rehabilitation Programs:  Brain Injury Program (Pediatric Specialty Program)
Vocational Services (Adults) Brain Injury Specialty Program

CARF is an independent, nonprofit accrediting body whose mission is to promote the quality, value, and optimal outcomes of services through a consultative accreditation process that centers on enhancing the lives of the persons served. Founded in 1966 as the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and now known as CARF International, the accrediting body establishes consumer-focused standards to help organizations measure and improve the quality of their programs and services. For more information about the accreditation process, please visit the CARF website at

IN THE NEWS: Robot Tool Gives Patients a Lift to Recovery

Check out this article in The Detroit News to learn how Special Tree's new ZeroG system is having a tremendous impact on the recovery of patients like Sloan H. 


Special Tree’s Adaptive Sports Experience Shows What’s Possible After Life-Altering Injury

Once an avid golfer, Gerry hadn’t touched a golf club since a spinal cord injury left him in a wheelchair six years ago.  But all that changed when he picked up an adaptive golf club at Special Tree’s Adaptive Sports Experience on June 28th at Willow Metropark.

“I can still swing and miss,” he said with a chuckle.  But there was much more to Gerry’s swing than hitting the ball.  “Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I’m here to see what I can do,” he said.  

Helping Gerry and others to see what’s possible after a life-changing injury is what the Adaptive Sports Experience is all about says Recreational Therapist Kristin Claerhout.  The annual free event is organized by Special Tree’s Recreational Therapy team to showcase outdoor activities that can be adapted to accommodate all ability levels. 

“A lot of people feel like their lives are over after a catastrophic injury,” said Kristin.  “People might have to do an activity a little differently, but they can still enjoy an active lifestyle.  It’s really eye-opening for participants to find that joy and quality of life again and to participate in things they enjoyed before their injury.”

This year’s event drew over 100 participants from Special Tree and the Metro Detroit area and featured adaptive kayaking, biking, golf, fishing, tennis, and yoga.   Recreational Therapists, volunteers, and representatives from Riverside Kayak Connection and Michigan Adaptive Sports who provided adaptive equipment, all provided hands-on instruction and support throughout the day to help participants safely enjoy the event.  

"The event was a lot of fun," said Gerry, who also rode an adaptive bike, went kayaking, and caught two fish.  

 “Participation in sports and other recreational activities becomes as much about regaining confidence as it is about working on functional skills and rebuilding physical strength,” said Kristen.  "Our goal for the event is to help people get that confidence back into their personal lives and encourage them to try more activities."

























Bright Lights, Big Savings

Things are looking brighter around Special Tree with the installation of hundreds of new LED light fittings. Our fabulous Facilities Maintenance team have converted hundreds of conventional bulbs to LEDs at the NeuroCare Campus, Industrial Operations Center, Troy NeuroSkills Center, and The Leadership Center and it’s paying off in big ways.

Since the conversion project began in 2017, LEDs have not only produced better light quality, these highly energy-efficient lights have helped Special Tree cut their carbon footprint while also saving money.

“Although LEDs are more expensive up front, they’re dramatically more cost-effecctive in the long run,” said Jim Richert, Facilities Maintenance Director. For over a year, he has kept close track of the costs and energy savings at locations where LEDs have been installed.   “Because LED lights use up to 80 percent less energy, our power usage and bills have gone way down,” said Jim.   Since installing LEDs in the parking at Special Tree's NeuroCare Campus over a year ago, energy consumption was reduced by 70%.   At our Troy NeuroSkills Center, energy bills for the year were reduced by $4000 after the LED conversion. 

LEDs also have added benefits like long-life and maintenance savings.  Because LEDs last five times longer than conventional bulbs, our maintenance staff doesn't need to replace them as often. Prior to converting the lights, maintenance staff at the Troy location replaced about six bulbs per week.  At the NeuroCare Campus, staff were replacing 18 conventional bulbs per year at $40/bulb in the exterior parking lot.  "The process to change the parking lot lights also required two people and a 16’ ladder so the LEDs have also helped mitigate risk,” said Jim.

Both the extended life and reduced power of LEDs have a lot to do with the fact that they burn much cooler than fluorescent bulbs. At the NeuroCare Center South, LEDs have also reduced air conditioning costs by approximately $500 per year.

LED conversions are in the works for Special Tree locations throughout Wayne, Oakland, Midland, Saginaw, Macomb, and Monroe counties.  

Special Tree Launches “ZeroG,” Robotic Body-Weight Rehab Support System


ZeroG Gait and Balance System provides dynamic, body-weight support, mimicking falls to provide real-time biofeedback.

Special Tree is thrilled to announce the launch of a new, cutting-edge rehab support system to help patients relearn walking after traumatic injury. The system was installed at the NeuroCare Center in early June. Following extensive training, therapists began using the system almost immediately and it has been in steady use ever since. 

"We are already seeing an impact on our patients," shared Nicole LeBaron, Physical Therapy Assistant. "Without Zero G, it could take several therapists to help a person stand up and walk. With this new system, they are able to build the confidence needed to regain independence.." 

The ZeroG Gait and Balance Training System by Aretech is a robotic body-weight support system that allows individuals recovering from traumatic events such as a brain or spinal cord injury to participate in safe, high-intensity rehabilitation much sooner in the treatment process, igniting the body’s recovery.

ZeroG provides interactive balance programs and games, with biofeedback, challenging the patient physically and cognitively while teaching them how to anticipate a loss of balance. Without the risk of falling, patients have the confidence to push boundaries and practice functional and real-world activities such as walking, getting up from a chair or the floor, climbing stairs and doing squats.

“The more patients are able to get up to walk, the better their recovery results are going to be,” says Megen Allen, Special Tree Director of Therapy Services. “In recovery, patients who walk more than 1,400 steps per day have better outcomes.”

ZeroG harnesses fit every size. The system has a dynamic body-weight support that can offload a person’s weight by up to 200 pounds, making them feel lighter in a reduced gravity environment. This allows patients to practice therapy at high-intensity levels sooner after an injury than previously possible.

“You can work on all aspects of gait walking,” Allen says. “Floor transfers, sit-to-stand activities and advanced balanced activities. It does everything from the bare minimum of just getting off the floor to running sprints.”

Different gait patterns are characterized by differences in limb movement patters, overall velocity, forces, kinetic and potential energy cycles, and changes in the contact with the surface.

“When a patient falls, you can see if their natural reaction is there because the system catches them,” Allen adds. “It protects them from falling but reveals whether natural reflexes are kicking in.”

As an individual progresses, therapists can decrease the amount of support so the patient can function more under his or her own capabilities. And because the system protects patients from falling, therapists encourage patients to push their limits without fear.

“We’re excited to be first facility in Metro Detroit to offer this level of cutting-edge capability to help people heal faster,” says Special Tree Vice President & Director, Jack Richert. “We made this investment because it provides a better chance at recovery for our patients and allows us to explore better ways to help individuals function more independently at home, at work and in the community.”


2018 Scholarship Winners Announced!

Special Tree offers a $1000 annual high school scholarship to college-bound students who attend public schools where Special Tree has a facility located within that district.

The scholarships assist winners with tuition as they pursue a career in rehabilitation or a related healthcare field. This is one criteria upon which the scholarships are awarded, along with academic achievement, community service, extra-curricular activities, responses to essay questions, and letters of recommendation.

This year, Special Tree awarded 13 scholarships.  Congratulations to the following graduates:

Anderson High School, Southgate – Emily Plaza
Avondale High School, Avondale – Deven Tayal
Birmingham Groves High School, Birmingham – Hadley Moak
Dakota High School, Clinton Twp – Abigail Meesseman
Flat Rock High School, Flat Rock – Samantha Tylicki
Franklin High School, Livonia – Caitlin Jodway
Freeland High School, Freeland – Bailey Desander
H.H. Dow High School, Midland – Brook Schultz
Huron High School, New Boston – Hannah McKeen
Monroe High School, Monroe – Andi Martin
Riverview Community High School, Riverview – Jade Smith
Romulus Senior High School, Romulus – Shannon Turner
Royal Oak Kimball High School, Royal Oak – Anna Hasley