Physical Therapy Month, Occupational Therapy, PACE, Seniors

Suncoast PACE Therapy Team Members Komal Schulte, Carolyn Tutt, Susan Wright and Kelly Pennell

October is Physical Therapy Month spotlighting the specialized care of physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapy assistants (PTAs). These professionals help with rehabilitation, pain management and daily functioning for patients with medical conditions or injuries.

Suncoast PACE, a member of Empath Health, provides all-inclusive medical care, adult day care and support services for Pinellas County seniors with chronic health conditions. The care team works together to help keep participants living healthy, active, social, independent and safe in their homes and the community.

The therapy team is dedicated to working with participants to improve comfort, mobility and safety, prevent falls and reduce hospital visits. Read our Q&A to learn more about the team and care.

Who is on the therapy team?

Carolyn Tutt, occupational therapist (OT): Two PTs, two PTAs, a restorative aide, a speech therapist, an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), myself and our supervisor.

What conditions do your participants experience?

Kelly Pennell, PTA: A history of falls or recent hospitalizations.

Komal Schulte, PT: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure and low back pain are the biggest case load. Also, coming from the hospital or having an injury and can’t walk right away.

Susan Wright, PTA: Quite a few Parkinson’s and vertigo.

Tutt: Stroke, Alzheimer’s, orthopedic injuries and conditions with hips, knees, hands and shoulders.

What is the focus of your care?

Schulte: Trying to make sure our participants stay safe in their homes and do not have too many emergency room (ER) visits or hospitalizations. Keeping them as mobile as possible. We may see them in PT for a few weeks and then transfer them to a maintenance program with a restorative plan to maintain what they gained in PT.

What modalities do you use in care?

Tutt: A lot of hands-on stuff. Kinesio taping for pain management and swelling, joint stabilization, heat-cold ultrasound, soft tissue mobilization and a portable tens unit for people with chronic pain. If there is an injury or stroke and a muscle is not moving then tightening and contraction happens, so we do a lot of conditioning with splints to help with positioning and pain management. If we can reduce pain and keep people safely moving then they will function better.

Schulte: The modalities we use are mostly for pain management, such as electrotherapeutic stimulation. A cool thing that we recently got are parallel bars. We also are starting a group project for exercise, and we will see if that helps with falls.

Chris Messersmith, supervisor: Our staff will attend a training in Tampa for wheelchair assessment and positioning, so we can help our population with fitting into different options.

How do you work with others on the care team?

Tutt: We meet every day for our interdisciplinary team (IDT) meeting, so it gives us access to the doctors, nurses, social workers, home care providers and all other disciplines. We get updated information on participants’ medical issues or concerns with their care, and we can use that information to best treat the participants.

How do you help participants function well at home?

Tutt: We go to their homes and give them good recommendations on how to keep safe, equipment and energy conversation. We make sure they can do their self-care activities, such as getting on and off the toilet or in and out of shower, laundry, house cleaning and other activities of daily living.

How do you help ensure seamless care for participants?

Tutt: We have the privilege of following them where they are.

Messersmith: Our team can go and do therapy for long-term care residents. We are the ones who permanently stay in long-term care to make sure they are staying safe.

Schulte: If there is a change then there is follow-up. That follow-up helps make sure that they are not going to the ER or for hospitalization visits. If they break a hip, go to a hospital and go to a skilled nursing facility where they get short-term rehab, then our PACE staff collaborates with the rehab staff to see how they are doing with OT, PT and speech. We review notes, go see the participants and figure out how we can get them home soon and safe.

Why do you enjoy working for PACE?

Tutt: Being an OT, I have so many domains to cover, and that allows me to make my holistic recommendations and truly treat the participants in ways that I can best help them. We really get to look at the individuals and develop a treatment plan that we believe is in their best interest. Sometimes there are people we see once or twice and some people need to be seen twice a week for a month or two. We are not limited by what we have to do or what insurance will pay for. It’s a very unique setting.

Schulte: I didn’t know about PACE until I applied for the position. This qualifies as primary care because you are doing everything to make sure you are preventing worse things from happening. It’s pre-acute care. When you work in other settings you dream of a program like this. I am glad that I am a part of it.

Contact Us

Visit or call (727) 289-0062 to learn more about care and services.