Modified van helps rehabilitation patients on their road to recovery


A van modified by Columbus Technical College students and faculty has found a new purpose at Hughston Hospital in Columbus by assisting rehabilitation patients on their road to recovery.

The project began as the brainchild of rehabilitation and plant operations staff at Hughston Hospital, who were looking for a better way of helping their rehabilitation patients learn how to properly transfer into and out of a car.  Until recently, rehabilitation patients often would have to brave the elements to master this exercise outdoors under the canopy at the front entrance of the hospital.

The project became a reality when Hughston Hospital CEO James R. “Butch” Wheeler turned to Columbus Technical College President Bob Jones to enlist the expertise of his faculty and students to modify a van that could simulate the activity in an indoor setting.

Teachers and students in the welding, automotive technology, and auto collision departments teamed up to make it happen. First, they took a Ford Windstar minivan that had been donated to the automotive technology program as a training vehicle. When the class had completed its training using the van, they removed the engine and transmission components then turned it over to the welding program.

The welding students cut the vehicle in half to retain its front portion to include the seats, doors, dashboard, floorboard and exterior and to fabricate the vehicle to smooth out the rough cuts, install metal casters and to create the Columbus Technical College logo design as the van’s front grill. When their job was complete, the minivan was moved to the auto collision team for painting, cleaning and putting on the final touches before delivery to Hughston Hospital.

The next challenge was moving the van inside the Rehabilitation Services department at Hughston. After removing exterior doors and windows at the outside entrance of the department, the Hughston Hospital team was able to move the van inside and place it in its current location.

Patients have begun using the van and give high marks to Hughston Hospital and Columbus Technical College for forging a partnership to bring the van simulator indoors to the Rehabilitation Services area.

“Our patients and employees are excited about this new approach in orienting the Rehabilitation Center patients on routine activities of daily living,” Wheeler said. “In the past, they have had to go outside to learn how to transfer into and out of a car, and due to escalating heat and inclement weather, the conditions were not ideal. By bringing this simulator indoors, it is enhancing our ability to care for our rehabilitation patients. I applaud the creativity of our staff for coming up with this idea and am extremely appreciative of the Columbus Tech team for making our dream become a reality.”

“For our team at Columbus Technical College, it was a win-win situation,” Jones said of the project. “Once our training vehicles have served their intended purpose for providing practical experience for our students, our faculty is charged with finding a way to either salvage them or find a place for them. When we received the request from Hughston Hospital to repurpose a vehicle, we were happy to oblige. It was a way for us to provide additional training for our students, and at the same time afford the opportunity for us to give back to our community.”

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As the region's leading provider of healthcare, Columbus Regional Health has touched the lives of most of the children and adults in this region through its comprehensive network of services. Located in the West Georgia city of Columbus, Columbus Regional was established in 1986 as a not-for-profit health services organization, but its roots can be traced back to 1836 when the local hospital was a small wooden building on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.