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Vocational Clients Shine at the Big House

Special Tree’s InPro Enterprises wrapped up another successful season of running the condiment stations at U of M’s Big House during the 2017 football season.   With support from Special Tree’s job coaches, clients were responsible for filling and cleaning all condiment stations at the 100,000 seat stadium for six home games including the big games against Michigan State and Ohio State.

“Our vocational clients received glowing reviews from the health inspectors on the excellent cleanliness of the condiment stations,” said Rene Dell, Associate Director of Vocational Services.   

InPro Enterprises began managing the condiment stations at the Big House last season to help clients gain valuable work experience in the community.  Clients work on developing important job skills for competitive employment like following directions, working under stress, focusing on tasks, and being part of the team.

The Big House is one of many community enclaves that are part of Special Tree’s Vocational Rehabilitation program.  “The enclaves are a great bridge for vocational clients who are ready to beef up their job readiness skills in a work environment outside of Special Tree,” said Dell.  Special Tree/InPro Enterprises partner with local businesses and non-profit organizations to find paid, real-work experiences that clients enjoy and that they’re best suited for.   Prior to working in an enclave, vocational counselors develop an individualized vocational plan for each client through interviews, vocational testing, and/or in-depth vocational assessments.  Being familiar with each client's needs, interests, and goals helps job coaches to modify and adapt job tasks at enclaves so clients experience success and learn to work independently.

Learn more about Special Tree's Vocational Rehabilitation services.




Tips to Beat the Winter Blues

For some, shorter days and colder weather can trigger feelings of sadness and fatigue, common symptoms of seasonal mood disorder or (SAD).   If you find yourself in a seasonal slump, try these tips from Special Tree’s Psych and Social Work team to help beat the winter blues.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that recurs seasonally.  Typically, us Michigan folks are more likely to experience seasonal depression during the winter months, when our internal body clocks shift due to decreased sunlight; the colder temps don’t make things any easier.  While some of us look forward to all that winter brings, others will feel like ‘tis the season to be melancholy.  

In addition to feeling sad and down most of the day, nearly every day, this condition also includes symptoms of low energy, sleeping much more than usual, overeating and craving carbs, weight gain, isolating from others, lack of interest in enjoyable activities, etc. In severe cases of depression, people may have thoughts about suicide. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is a wonderful resource for persons with thoughts about suicide or self-harming.

If any of the above symptoms sound familiar to you, here are some helpful tips for beating the winter blues:

  • Exercise – the more you move, the better you’ll feel
  • Go outside – being outdoors for as little as 5-10 mins a day will expose you to a good dose of natural light
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule – try to get 8 hours each night and no matter how cozy and warm your bed feels, avoid oversleeping
  • Maintain healthy eating – it is easy to stray away from healthy eating, especially during the holiday season (and ESPECIALLY when your dad makes the best cheesecakes ever); don’t deprive yourself of yummy food, but remember what our lovely STRS dieticians say: “Everything in moderation!”
  • Invest in a light therapy sunlamp or sunrise simulating alarm clock – research shows that light therapy can be very effective and these items can be purchased on
  • Surround yourself with supports – fight urges to isolate, and make plans with family and friends
  • Have fun – engage in both indoor and outdoor activities that bring you joy, try a new activity you’ve been thinking about doing all year or, if possible, take a vacation to a warmer climate and get a break from both work and winter weather
  • Consult a professional – whether you want to speak with your physician about your Vitamin D level, or seek out counseling for additional support, professionals are there to help

Special Tree named Top Work Place for 8th year straight

Special Tree has been named one of the top places to work in Michigan for the 8th year in a row! We first achieved Top Workplace status as part of the "Mid-Size" category in 2010, and are honored to have earned recognition each year, continuing to achieve Top Workplace status even as we moved into the "Large Company" category in 2014 where we have remained since. 

Each year the Detroit Free Press teams up with Energage, a Human Resources Technology company based in Exton, Pennyslvania, to select the winners based on employee nominations and anonymous survey results. The winners were announced at the Top Workplaces awards gala held by the Detroit Free Press. Special Tree was represented in force at this year’s event held on Thursday, November 2, 2017. Go team!


Read more about the coverage at the Detroit Free Press website

Talking With Susan Wollschlager, RN, Subacute Rehabilitation Program

Special Tree’s nurses are an integral part of the rehabilitation process. Specializing in rehabilitation and post-acute care, our nurses play an active role in helping patients and their families through recovery from brain and spinal cord injury.  Our nurses strive to provide the highest quality care along with compassion, motivation, and hope to help patients achieve the highest quality of life.  

We spoke with Susan Wollschlager, a rehabilitation nurse at Special Tree’s NeuroCare Campus, to learn more about her role and the meaning she finds in her work. 

Q:  What’s a typical day like for you?
: It’s rewarding and goes by so fast!  The first part of my day is focused on medication passing.  The remainder is working with my patients to support their rehabilitation care and treatment. That includes not only the typical functional tasks of what nurse do, but also interacting with patients’ families to support them through the rehabilitation process.  My goal is to make it as best as it can be for my patients as they make progress in their recovery. 

Q:  What do you like about working at Special Tree?
  The patients and my colleagues!  I work with a lot of amazing people.  We work well together and are very supportive of one another.  Special Tree still has that family atmosphere of caring because the Subacute Rehabilitation unit is smaller, but still large enough to offer our patients state-of-the-art therapy and care.  I’ve also really enjoyed learning about rehabilitation therapies and seeing the innovative treatments that Special Tree offers for brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation.  The treatment modalities have come so far.   Special Tree has also been great about supporting my educational goals, which is a very big part of who I am in my practice.  When I’ve wanted to focus on areas of learning, our Director of Nursing has always gone the extra mile to get me information and has encouraged me to get my certification in rehabilitation nursing.  Special Tree invests in their staff and want them to be their best because that spills over into the best patient care.

Q:  What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
  Seeing patients make gains in their level of independence – whether they’re returning home or progressing to an assisted living situation.  Sometimes it’s the simple things that are most rewarding like when a patient is able to move their hand which they initially couldn’t do or when a patient gets up out of a wheelchair with therapy and starts walking.  It always amazes me to see the fortitude of our patients and to see how hard every patient, family, and clinician works to make strides in their recovery.   I’m inspired by them every single day.

Q:  Why did you want to work in a rehabilitation setting?
  I’d been a nurse in a hospital setting for 30 years and was looking for something new and inspiring.  Working in a rehabilitation setting was a new approach for me in nursing.  I enjoy working closely with respiratory staff, dietitians, physicians, therapists, case managers, and others to provide for clients' day-to-day needs.  I’m continually learning which is what I was also looking for in my nursing career.    Special Tree also has a great reputation for providing excellent rehabilitation services. 

Q: What advice would you give a nurse who’s considering rehabilitation nursing?
  If you’re the type of nurse who likes one-on-one communication then you’ll get that here.  As a rehabilitation nurse you really get to know the patients and families because they’re here for a longer duration.  You’re sharing struggles and successes with them which allows for a relationship to really build.  They become part of your family.  To me that’s what life is all about…being there for one another.

We need caring hearts like yours.  Now hiring RNs, LPNs, and Direct Care staff.  Apply online at 

Special Tree Expands Vocational Rehabilitation Program in Mid-Michigan

The goal of many people recovering from brain injury is returning to work.  Special Tree’s strong commitment to help our clients achieve the best possible employment outcomes is reflected in our wide range of vocational rehabilitation services that focus on each client’s individual goals and job interests.   That’s why we’re so excited about the new enhancements to our Vocational Rehabilitation Program in Mid-Michigan.   We’ve ramped up our program with more specialized services including Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling and Community-Based Employment Enclaves to help even more clients make a smooth transition back to work. 

“Our Vocational Services are an integral part of our outpatient rehabilitation program in Mid-Michigan” said Rene Dell, Associate Director of Vocational Services.  “Our Voc and therapy teams work closely together to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to support clients with a variety of vocational goals -- whether they’re returning to their previous job or exploring other alternative work options.”   

Mid-Michigan Therapy team members Heidi Nadobny and Kelly Hott are heading up the Mid-Michigan Voc program which is based at Special Tree’s NeuroSkills Center in Midland.   In their expanded role as Vocational Rehabilitation Specialists, Heidi and Kelly help clients manage the many aspects of working after an injury, from handling cognitive challenges and job modifications to vocational assessments and work training.  Heidi and Kelly are also developing Mid-Michigan’s Employment Enclaves which provide clients with paid community-based work training and job coaching at local businesses.   

“Our Voc team find an enclave based on each client’s individual needs and interests and then find a community employer willing to have them come as an enclave with job support,” said Rene.  Clients are currently working in community enclaves at the Midland Community Center, a hair salon, Midland Shelter House Resale Shop, and Valley Lanes Entertainment Center.  “Enclaves are a great way for our clients to try out different types of jobs in the community while also strengthening their job readiness skills.”  

Rene added that the Mid-Michigan Voc program will continue to evolve to help clients reach their highest potential.   For example, an in-house job was created for a client at the Midland NeuroSkills Center to develop skills for community-based employment. “We start fresh with each and every person to help them find the best placement for long-term success.” 


Special Tree SLPs help clients “See the Swallow”

Special Tree’s Speech Language Pathologists are using a new high-tech therapy to drastically improve how clients relearn to swallow following a brain injury. The Synchrony Dysphasia Solution is a revolutionary biofeedback device that enables clients to “see” their swallows through the use of virtual reality-enhanced images. Watch as Sarah Kapelczak, SLP, demos the new technology and explains how Synchrony is helping to improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals with Dysphasia.

Special Tree's Innovation Team Brings Great Ideas to Life

Special Tree’s Innovation Team is all about turning our employee’s great ideas into reality.  Whether an idea involves new and productive ways of doing things or meeting the needs of clients, the Innovation Team encourages employees to submit ideas both big and small and provides structured support to bring them to fruition.

Watch this video to see our Innovation Team in action as they take innovative ideas from zero to hero!

Talking Universal Design With OT Bev Zimmerman

To help our clients live as independently as possible, Special Tree’s Occupational Therapists look closely at their living space to make sure it’s safe, functional, and accessible for their needs.  But our OTs go one step further in determining what to modify in a home setting.  Their goal is to create living spaces that work for everyone through Universal Design. 

Universal Design is an inclusive approach to design that creates an accessible and aesthetically pleasing environment for anyone, regardless of ability and age.   OTs like Bev Zimmerman apply Universal Design principals in their home evaluations for clients as well as at Special Tree’s residential homes.   Universal Design requires OTs to earn an advanced Aging in Place Specialist certification (CAPS).  We asked Bev to explain more about Universal Design as it relates to Occupational Therapy.

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is a concept that makes a living space user-friendly.  It goes beyond the traditional approach of creating a handicap accessible home for someone in a wheelchair to one that’s usable and accessible by everyone that would enter the home.  Universal Design concepts also apply to the long-term use of a home to make sure it continues to meet the needs of all people as they age.  

How does Universal Design make a living space more user-friendly?

Universal Design concepts look at ways to make day-to-day living and home tasks easier and safer for everyone but that also remain largely unnoticeable by a casual observer.  I worked with an architect to use Universal Design in a kitchen remodel at one of our community residences.  Our goal was to create a functional and accessible kitchen that anyone could use with ease.  The kitchen has a wall mounted oven for easy access, light-colored counter surfaces and recessed lighting for increased visibility, a two level countertop and roll out drawers to accommodate clients in wheelchairs, and large handles on cabinets and drawers for clients with impaired fine motor control.  

How does Occupational Therapy relate to Universal Design? 

OT and Universal Design share a lot of common ground.  Both look at making an environment as functional and pleasing as possible.  Occupational Therapists approach a living space from the end-user, taking a client’s physical, cognitive, and sensory limitations into account.  Universal Design provides the concepts for minimizing complexities in living environments so it works everyone.

Some examples of Universal Design at Special Tree's Community Residences:


A Team Approach to Vision Rehabilitation

Vision is more than 20/20.  It’s also our brain’s ability to gather information with our eyes and to process the information we see.  Our brain and eyes work together to help us think, move, and make sense of the world around us.   Because of the close relationship between the brain and vision, many people experience significant vision problems after a brain injury. These visual deficits can interfere with recovery which is why vision therapy is an important part of our clients' overall rehabilitation. We asked OT Patricia Laws to explain more about the benefits of vision therapy and how Special Tree's team-approach helps to maximize visual function. 

At Special Tree, we take a collaborative approach to vision rehabilitation in our adult, teen and pediatric clients.  By collaborating our occupational therapy services and vision therapy, we maximize service and performance skills with each client. Special Tree OTs work closely with our consulting optometrist Dr. Haba, who specializes in behavorial optometry and vision therapy, to develop customize treatment plans that promote optimal visual function.

OTs provide thorough evaluations and treatment to re-store or improve performance skills in areas including visual perceptual skills, visual motor/movement skills, visual cognitive processing skills, neuro visual postural therapy and development treatment approaches in sessions.   Treatment approaches include:a combination of specialized lenses, prisms, low vision aides, and vision therapy activities designed to create new neurological pathways.  We are able to collaboratively treat a person experiencing many different symptoms that may be related to their visual dysfunction, this including but not limited to performance with reading, reading comprehension, visual attention/concentration, depth perception, handwriting, motor coordination, eye hand coordination, sports, leisure tasks, driving skills, and topographical orientation and navigation skills that are vital to function and engage in their daily environments whether it is school, work or home.  

Special Tree Expands Continuum With Home Health Care

Special Tree is excited to announce Home Health Care, a new home-based program to help individuals make a smooth transition home.  Whether a person wants to return home or to live on their own in the community, Special Tree's Home Health Care team provides customized care and support to help them achieve their goals for more independence.  Special Tree’s Cortney Richert explains how Home Health Care is helping individuals to head home with confidence.

What is the goal of Special Tree’s Home Health Care services?
Our goal is to assist individuals that have experienced life altering circumstances, to live as independently as possible, while maximizing their potential. This is accomplished through a collaboration with the entire rehabilitation team and natural supports.  The program provides individuals with an opportunity to reach higher independence, and often return home with family and/or our Home Health Care services.  We support their goals for indpendence by meeting them where they are.

How do you determine if someone is a good fit for Home Health Care?

Determining an appropriate fit is a team effort in deciding whether or not a person will receive home care services. Our typical client is someone who has been working toward the goal of independence, and has set specific goals in order to live on their own and/or with support from our team.  Setting and tracking specific goals, assists the client, their family, other pertinent team members with understanding what is expected of them once they live more independently, and what supports will be needed from our Home Health Care team.

What is your role in Home Health Care?
​My role is to ensure quality care by providing necessary supports through our Home Health Care team members. This includes recruiting, screening and hiring top quality staff; providing ongoing training, supervision, and medical appointment management; and includes a 24 hour on-call emergency line to assist clients and staff.Can you give an example of how Home Health Care helps clients achieve more independence?.

What sets Special Tree’s Home Health Care apart?

Special Tree Home Health Care team members are recruited and screened in order to determine the highest level of excellence.  Team members participate in extensive instruction and on-the-job the training that is specific to working with folks with TBIs and SCIs. Our staff receive the same high quality training as do Special Tree’s Residential staff.  Additionally, team members receive continued education each month during staff meetings, and other required learning objectives.

How do you determine the right mix of supports to help clients achieve success in a home-setting?

We work closely with a clinical team, including Occupational Therapists, Psychologists, and others when determining what supports are necessary, and what the client should be striving to accomplish on their own. Most clients we serve are working every single day to reach a higher level of independence, and we adjust the types and levels of supports that are provided as clients progress in order to meet their changing needs. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Progress comes every day, even if by the smallest margins, as our team encourages clients to build upon their successes.  Most of our clients have truly followed the continuum of care, by beginning at our Neuro Care Center, and working toward their treatment goals, and then returning to their own residence.  We are rewarded when we see our clients become more independent, society-contributing individuals within their home and community.

To learn more, pleast contact Jessica Briggs at (734)323-6991 or