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Special Tree Named a Top Workplace by the Detroit Free Press

Special Tree is proud to be named a Top Workplace by the Detroit Free Press for the seventh straight year.  Special Tree was ranked #24 for Top Employers in the Large-Sized category. The Top Workplaces are based on employee feedback via a survey conducted by Workplace Dynamics, LLP, a leading research firm on organizational health and employee engagement.   The survey seeks to find if employees feel inspired in their workplace, and if they are given the opportunity and support needed to do great things. 

“We are committed to providing the best rehabilitation and care and know that it starts with having a great team,” said Special Tree CEO Joe Richert.  “Our team members take pride in helping our clients achieve the best outcomes possible throughout their recovery.  We’re dedicated to providing a positive work environment and ongoing continuing education for our staff and are thrilled they responded so favorably to the survey.” 

Here’s what our team members had to say about working at Special Tree:

“We are a team that values and appreciates diversity. As a team, we work together to go above and beyond to continue to improve the work that we are doing and truly impact lives in a positive way.”

“That I make a difference in someone's life.”

“The positivity that surrounds Special Tree. The work is very rewarding.”

The Detroit Free Press published the complete list of Top Workplaces on November 20, 2016.  For more information about the Top Workplaces lists and Workplace Dynamics, please visit

Role of Respiratory Therapists is a Matter of Life and Breath

It's Respiratory Care Week and a great time to shine a spotlight on our Respiratory Therapists (RTs) and the life-saving care they provide to clients throughout their rehabilitation and recovery.  

Our highly-skilled RTs provide 24/7 care to clients with many levels of respiratory support needs in the Subacute Rehabilitation Program at Special Tree's NeuroCare Campus in Romulus.  For many clients that means RTs work closely with an interdisciplinary team to successfully wean them off a ventilator to restore independent breathing.  For those clients who are dependent on a ventilator long-term, RTs are focused on helping them to live a more active, enjoyable life.  We asked RT Danille Jones (far right in photo) to explain more about her role at Special Tree and the big impact that Respiratory Therapy has on a client's independence and quality of life.

What specialized respiratory care does Special Tree provide?
As an RT, our goal is always to rehabilitate our clients to a safe and maintainable point of independence.  To achieve that, we provide many levels of specialized care at the NeuroCare Campus including ventilator support management, airway maintenance, CPAP/BIPAP support, Oxygen support, Vest therapy, Cough assist, and administration of respirtory treatments.  We have a weaning protocaol for our trach clients to progress toward decannulation, and for our ventilator clients to wean successfully from the ventilator.

For clients who are on a ventilator long-term, how do RTs help them to live a more active and enjoyable life?
We want our vent dependent clients to LIVE and enjoy things in the community.   We use ventilators that are based for home care which are small, easy to travel with and are able to run on battery for up to 8-hours.  Clients on vents are able to go outside on the trails, fishing in the pond, attend activities, got to the therapy gym, and truly engage in daily life.  We take vent clients to sporting events, museums, movies, and family gatherings.  We work closely with Recreational Therapy and the Activities teams to plan and coordinate outings and events to successfully engage vent clients in the community. 

What other therapies help support clients on a ventilator?
Special Tree as a whole embraces an interdisciplinary approach to the rehabilitation process.  RTs work with each client's therapy team to help them achieve their goals.  For example, RTs work very closely with Speech Therapy to monitor diet and signs of aspiration, speaking vale use, and capping trials.   Physical therapy is also essential to a vent client's rehabilitation.  Vent clients benefit greatly from gym-based therapy including the tilt table which puts them in a semi to full upright position which is great for pulmonary hygiene, lung expansion. muscle stimulation, and to help prevent pneumonia and atelectasis.  The therapy team is also diligent with feeback on the client's respiratory status during therapy sessions.  It truly is an interdisciplinary approach from every end of care! 

Why did you choose to become a Respiratory Therapist?
I worked in the automotive industry for eleven years and felt unfulfilled and stagnant in my career.  My friend is an RT and I asked to job shadow with her in the hospital.  I loved the variety of care and the constant interaction with patients and their families.  I took a buyout, finished school, and become an RT.

What makes you most proud of the Respiratory Therapy program at Special Tree?
I am proud of our team approach to developing a plan of care based on individualized goals for each client.   As a team we have a diverse background in Respiratory Care, which enables us to work together to make sure each client achieves their goals and continues to make progress in their rehabilitation and recovery.


PT Month Spotlight: Why I Love Being a Physical Therapist

By Jackie Cunningham, PT, CBIS -- As the temperature cools, the autumn leaves change colors, and the calendar flips to October, so begins National Physical Therapy Month.  PT Month is established to increase awareness to the profession. As a physical therapist for over 25 years, I often get asked the questions: are you happy with the profession you chose, and what do you like about being a physical therapist? Let us begin with who physical therapists are; PT’s are highly educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility ( I learned this explanation when I was researching careers at the library way back, I mean way back… in high school. It intrigued me to continue my interest and exposure to this awesome field.

As a PT, one can work in many areas from schools, outpatient clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation centers all with the goals of increasing an individual’s function and reducing pain.  After graduating from Wayne State University, I immediately found my passion of working with individuals with life alternating experiences resulting in neurological deficits such as spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury and multiple traumas.  I was very grateful to join Special Tree’s Rehab Team almost 10 years ago to continue this passion of restoring and improving mobility.

Even with patients’ undergoing devastating, catastrophic events, it is incredibly uplifting to assist your client in their function. When I answer the question are you happy with your choice and what do you like about being a PT. I often answer, how many professions are there that on a daily basis you are thanked immensely not only by your clients but also their family? How many professions allow you to watch someone go from being paralyzed and unable to get out of bed to often moving their body again, walking and regaining their independence?  How many professions do you work with a dynamic rehab team of educated health professionals? All of this occurs while working as a PT at Special Tree. It is truly amazing to assist the human body in recovery.

I have had so many positive experiences through the past 25 years that I often cannot give one story of success. When asked I state the stories are many and begin to blend together with an overall smile and happiness in my heart. So the answer is YES, I love my job, the profession I chose, and I am honored to work for such an awesome organization, Special Tree Rehabilitation System!

This October, National Physical Therapy Month’s theme is #ChoosePT! The platform is to increase awareness to physical therapy and decrease the use of pain meds and choose physical therapy as an intervention. I can proudly say I, #ChoosePT!

Vocational Program Expands to the Big House!

Special Tree vocational clients are accomplishing big things at the Big House!  For the U of M football 2016 season, a team of eight clients along with Special Tree job coaches are responsible for filling and cleaning all condiment stations at the 100,000 seat stadium during home games.   

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for our clients to get valuable work experience in the community,” said Rene Dell, Associate Director of Vocational Services.  With support from job coaches, clients are developing important job skills for competitive employment like following directions, working under stress, focusing on tasks, and being a part of a team. “Since working at the Big House, we’ve seen so much growth from clients,” she said. “Their self-confidence is up, they feel better about themselves, and it gives clients hope to know that it’s possible to find work in the community.”  

Being in charge of the condiments stations for the largest stadium in the country is a lot of work, but Rene says the group is having a great time doing it. “We have some serious U of M football fans in the group, so they love working behind the scenes and being part of the excitement.”     

The Big House is just 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.  Special Tree partners with local businesses and organizations to find paid, real work opportunities in the community that clients enjoy and for what they're best suited.  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.  “We have a great team of hard working job coaches who are dedicated to helping clients reach their highest potential,” said Rene.  Currently, clients work at St. Vincent DePaul assisting customers and sorting and organizing donations; Ann Visger Elementary School assisting in the art room and tutoring kids in the classroom; and Health Source in Midland doing light janitorial work and visiting with patients.

Learn more about Special Tree's comprehensive Vocational Rehabiliation services. 




Adaptive Sports in Full Swing at Special Tree

From kayaking and biking to golf and fishing, adaptive sports and recreational activities are an important part of our clients' rehabilitation and recovery.  Being physically active not only helps clients improve strength and fitness, but it can have a positive impact on their overall well-being and quality of life.

“Participation in sports and recreation can speed the recovery process, and it shows our clients that their disability doesn’t have to keep them from an active and enjoyable lifestyle,” said Special Tree Recreational Therapist Kristin Claerhout, who organizes Special Tree adaptive golf program.  Special Tree’s Recreational Therapists encourage clients to explore new activities as well as return to activities they enjoyed before their injury and work with each client to find the most appropriate activity for their interests, capabilities, and needs. 

Adaptive Sports Experience
Opportunities for recreational activities are available year-round, but summer is a great time for our clients to experience the benefits of adaptive sports. To help clients and others learn more about adaptive sports and recreation, Special Tree’s Recreational Therapists are hosting a free community-wide event at Willow MetroPark on July 27, 2016. The Adaptive Sports Experience features hands-on demos of adaptive kayaking, biking, golf, fishing, and yoga. Come see what you can do!  Learn more.



Staff Honored for Dedication to Quality

Special Tree takes great pride in the recognitions we’ve earned for our commitment to quality, but we’re especially proud of our staff members who strive for quality excellence in everything they do each and every day.  Special Tree recognizes staff for their outstanding dedication to quality with the coveted “Lynn Slevin” Quality Award, named after Lynn Slevin, Special Tree’s Quality Officer who retired in 2015.

CEO Joe Richert presented this year’s award to Special Tree Registered Dietitians Jill Bruce and Brahmlin Sethi at the annual Ol’ Timer Recognition Luncheon on May 13, 2016.   Jill and Brahmlin were nominated for the award by fellow staff for their commitment to improve client satisfaction and health as well as the general health of staff through several company-wide programs including:

Quarterly Residential Food Service Training
Regular In-service Classes on Nutrition and Food Safety
Healthy Living Challenge for Staff
Annual Healthy Soup Challenge
Guidance on Nutritional Menus at all our Facilities
Individualized Client Nutritional Support and Education

Congratulations to Jill and Brahmlin as well as to Special Tree’s honorable mentions including:

Lisa Bray, NCC Operational Manager
Vickie Lambert, Manager of Safety & Support Services
Suzanne Morrison, Social Worker, NCC South
The Residential Team & Residential AOD Team.

Scholarship Winners Announced!

Special Tree has awarded $1000 scholarships to twelve outstanding college-bound seniors to pursue careers in healthcare.  The competitve scholarship is given to students who are interested in continuing their education in a healthcare field and who have achieved academic excellence at schools in communities where Special Tree has a rehabilitation facilitiy.  Congrats to our 2016 recipients!

Tiera Thornton, Arthur Hill High School
Jacob Moak, Birmingham Groves High School
Griffin Ballick, Dakota High School
Alexandria Turner, Flat Rock High School
Emily Reams, Freeland High School​
Madison Kent, H.H. Dow High School
Angelica Zhou, Livonia Churchill High School
Jackson Arnold, New Boston Huron High School
Jacqueline Helstowski, Riverview High School
Alexis Paisley, Romulus High School
Katelyn Tomaszewski, Royal Oak High School
Hunter Angileri, Southgate High School

"We strongly believe in encouraging young people to consider careers in healthcare,” said Special Tree CEO Joseph Richert.  “With the dire need for more healthcare professionals and the increasing costs of higher education, Special Tree is happy to help support our scholarship winners in achieving their educational goals.” 

Special Tree’s Healthcare and Rehabilitation Scholarship was created in 1995 to encourage students to pursue healthcare careers and to increase awareness of traumatic brain injury.  With this year’s awards, Special Tree has contributed over $200,000 in scholarships to deserving students since the program’s inception.

In addition to the scholarship program, Special Tree provides educational opportunities to high school and college students through job shoadowing and clinical internship programs in a wide range of disciplines including Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Case Management, Nursing, Respiratory Therapy, Social Work, Psychology, and Recreational Therapy.






Special Tree Team Member Wins National Award for Injury Prevention Education

Around Special Tree, Todd Hammons is known as a strong advocate for persons with spinal cord injury (second from right in photo).  As Special Tree's Accessibility Advisor, he orchestrates our annual Mobility Expo as well as a monthly Spinal Cord Injury support group.  Not only is he passionate about showing people what they CAN do after spinal cord injury, he's also dedicated to preventing serious injury in the first place, especially among teens.

Todd was recently honored with a national award for his work with Think First, an injury prevention program for K-12 which strives to prevent brain and spinal cord injuries through education.  For the past two decades, Todd has been a “Voice for Injury Prevention” (VIP) for Think First, sharing his own experience with spinal cord injury with thousands of local students to raise awareness about the serious consequences of risky behavior.  Todd traveled to Chicago in May to accept the “VIP of the Year” award at Think First’s national convention.

Todd was nominated for the award by Joyce Kessler, co-President of Think First’s Washtenaw Chapter, because he exemplified the group’s message and passion for its mission.  “Todd conveys his message in a way that really hits home with kids," she said, adding that students always want to talk to Todd after a presentation and that he has binders full of thank you letters.

“We’re so proud of all the great work that Todd has done for Think First and also for Special Tree.”




What do SLPs do?

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month and the perfect time to learn more about what Speech Language Pathologists do at Special Tree.  Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) have a long job title, but they need all those words to reflect the many aspects of their job.  Speech is our ability to make sounds so others hear and understand us.  Language is much broader and involves a system of communication – the underlying rules (sounds, words, grammar) we all use to communicate.  SLPs diagnose and treat communication disorders that interfere with BOTH speech and language.   At Special Tree, SLPs treat clients with communication disorders following brain injuries and other neurological impairments whose injuries have affected skills such as eating, swallowing, verbal and non-verbal communication, memory, sequencing, problem-solving and more.  Speech-Language Pathologists work with the interdisciplinary team to develop appropriate rehabilitation for each client.

Our SLPs diagnose and treat the following communication disorders:

Aphasia is an impairment of language that can mildly, moderately, or severely impact a persons’ ability to express and understand many aspects of language. This language impairment can impair the ability to express oneself through talking, writing, or gesture (e.g., sign language). Aphasia can also impair the ability to understand what one hears or reads, or what is being gestured

Apraxia is a disorder that makes difficult the sequencing and coordination of movements. Many different body structures can be affected by apraxia, and as such, there are many different forms of this disorder including but not limited to oral apraxia, apraxia of speech (verbal apraxia), limb apraxia, and conceptual apraxia.

Cognitive-Communication Disorders
This refers to communication difficulties that stem from underlying impairments in cognition, behavior, and/or emotion

Cognitive Impairment
Cognition can be described as the means by which we acquire knowledge or understanding. The essential processes by which we acquire information include the five primary senses paired with our arousal, attention, speed of processing, visual-spatial ability, memory, language, and executive functioning. These are all neural functions and consequently, neurologic injury can often impair one or many of these processes

Communication and Environmental Access Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
AAC includes all forms of communication, other than speech.  SLPs provide assessments, recommendations, and training to those with severe speech or language problems who may rely on a system to supplement their existing communication or completely replace speech that may be non-functional. AAC systems (whether low- or high-tech) allow individuals to communicate their thoughts, express their feelings, direct their caregivers regarding their wants/needs, and participate in social interaction

Dysarthria is a neurogenic speech disorder caused by a weakened, paralyzed, or uncoordinated speech system. The speech of a person with dysarthria may sound sluggish, weak, imprecise, or uncoordinated

Dysphagia is a term used when a person experiences difficulty swallowing food, liquid or managing secretions.  Special Tree SLPs assess client’s strength and movement of the muscles involved in swallowing, and observe feeding to see a client's posture, behavior, and oral movements during eating and drinking. Speech therapy may involve special tests to evaluate swallowing. Therapists may recommend exercises, positions, or strategies to help clients swallow more effectively. Working closely with the Dietary Manager and Nutritionist, specific food and liquid textures that are easier and safer to swallow may be recommended.

Positive Coping Skills



In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here’s a list of positive coping skills from Special Tree Neuropsychology team that may help when you're experiencing strong emotions such as anger, anxiety, or depression. The purpose of these activities is to help you learn to be more resilient and stress tolerant. These activities are not likely to create more stress or problems so give them a try!  Learn more about Special Tree's Neuropsychology services here.


  1. Write, draw, paint, photography
  2. Play an instrument, sing, dance, act
  3. Take a shower or a bath
  4. Garden
  5. Take a walk, or go for a drive
  6. Watch television or a movie
  7. Watch cute dog videos on YouTube
  8. Go shopping
  9. Clean or organize your environment
  10. Read
  11. Take a break or vacation

Social/Interpersonal (with others)

  1. Talk to someone you trust
  2. Set boundaries and say "no"
  3. Write a note to someone you care about
  4. Be assertive
  5. Use humor
  6. Spend time with friends and/or family
  7. Serve someone in need
  8. Care for or play with a pet
  9. Role-play challenging situations with others
  10. Encourage others

Cognitive (Of the Mind)

  1. Make a gratitude list
  2. Brainstorm alternative solutions
  3. Keep an inspirational quote with you
  4. Be flexible
  5. Write a list of goals
  6. Act opposite of negative feelings
  7. Write a list of pros and cons for decisions
  8. Reward or pamper yourself when successful
  9. Write a list of strengths

Tension Releasers

  1. Exercise or play sports
  2. Catharsis (yelling into a pillow, punching a punching bag)
  3. Cry
  4. Laugh


  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Get into a good routine
  3. Eat healthy foods but also eat a little chocolate
  4. Deep/slow breathing


  1. Pray or meditate
  2. Enjoy nature
  3. Get involved in a worthy cause

Limit Setting

  1. Drop some involvement
  2. Prioritize important tasks
  3. Use assertive communication
  4. Schedule time for yourself