Working Out, Yet Breathing Easy — USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Launches Pulmonary Rehab Program

Exercise can be extremely beneficial for people with chronic lung disease or other respiratory problems, but it can also be extremely intimidating. Conventional gyms have equipment, but they lack the ability to help a person who is experiencing severe shortness of breath.

It is with this in mind that USC Verdugo Hills Hospital (USC-VHH) recently launched a new pulmonary rehabilitation program. Patients’ sessions take place in a gym inside USC-VHH where participants are given a thorough evaluation as well as an exercise program designed by an exercise physiologist that is tailored to their specific needs. Unlike a traditional gym, their blood oxygen rates are monitored while they work out and if the patient has a medical emergency, there is a trained medical response team on site.

The program involves much more than just the exercise component. Participants receive comprehensive support from medical specialists including doctors, respiratory therapists, dieticians, physical therapists, occupational therapists and exercise physiologists.

“One of the real strengths of the program is that it is a team effort of people who are all experts in their individual fields,” said Shant Shirvanian, MD, medical director of the pulmonary rehabilitation program at USC-VHH.

Participants also learn breathing techniques with the help of respiratory therapists and have their diets evaluated by nutritionists. The program also makes smoking cessation services available to patients through the Dept. of Occupational Therapy.

Shirvanian noted that comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation programs can dramatically improve the quality of life for patients enrolled. Participants can improve their lung function and overall energy levels. Pulmonary rehabilitation may also decrease their need for hospital visits. And, unfortunately, respiratory rehabilitation programs are relatively rare and the program at USC-VHH is one of only a few in the region.

“USC-VHH recognized that there was a real need for pulmonary rehab in this community,” said Shirvanian. He noted that patients who may benefit include patients with interstitial lung diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and COVID-19 survivors.

Insurance will often cover up to 36 sessions, after which patients can continue to use the gym at their own expense. Michelle Sullivan, associate administrator of Ancillary Services, said USC-VHH knew that many participants would want to keep using the facility even after insurance coverage ran out because it is such a safe environment.

“They can exercise in the same gym with the same health care professionals readily available,” said Sullivan. “Patients feel safe knowing that if anything were to happen, the staff is able to handle medical emergencies.”

She added that another reason participants want to keep coming to USC-VHH is that many participants have developed strong bonds with other people who use the gym.

“They socialize and they meet people who can understand what they are dealing with,” said Sullivan. “We believe this is another thing that makes USC-VHH a special place.”