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Providing physical therapy to the underinsured

Policy change allows CMU clinic to expand services to more local, rural Michigan residents

Contact: Curt Smith

​​Hands for Health, Central Michigan University's student-run physical therapy clinic, has provided free treatment to uninsured local residents unable to pay for rehabilitation services since 1998. Now, a policy update initiated by the clinic — a move prompted by decreases in the number of uninsured and the growing ranks of the insured under the Affordable Care Act — also will make the same physical therapy services available to the underinsured. ​

"The landscape of health insurance has shifted, and we want to make sure we change with it to continue to meet residents' needs," said John Andraka, CMU faculty member and director of Hands for Health. "This change to the clinic's policy is a major shift that will allow us to help more people in our local community and other parts of rural Michigan."

The new policy means patients who have health insurance, but still cannot afford physical therapy, also may be eligible to receive care. The clinic will continue to serve patients without health insurance and those who have surpassed their physical therapy insurance allowance. Patients must prove a financial need and status that aligns with the federal poverty level determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.   ​

Patients range from toddlers to the elderly. Therapists primarily treat or manage orthopedic and musculoskeletal symptoms stemming from medical procedures, injuries or conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, chronic back issues, sports injuries and joint replacements. A prescription referral from a physician is preferred, but residents also may call the clinic to speak with staff about their eligibility for services.

"The broad spectrum of expertise in our faculty members and doctoral students means that we are able to guide a patient to the best person for their particular condition and the help they need to improve their quality of life," Andraka said. "This not only ensures exceptional patient care, it also gives our talented students additional hands-on learning experiences with experienced professionals in the field."

Hands for Health's student clinicians from the Doctor of Physical Therapy program work closely with licensed and board-certified faculty members year-round to treat residents of the greater Mount Pleasant area. The students and faculty evaluate, develop a treatment strategy, perform tests and carry out a personalized therapy plan for each patient. To treat patients, students must be in the second year of their doctoral program and have completed one clinical internship. First-year students, however, also are given opportunities to observe and learn.

The clinic first launched as a partnership with the Central Michigan Community Hospital, now McLaren Central Michigan. Today, the facility resides in CMU's Carls Center — a wellness hub with clinics spanning multiple health specialties. In addition to the students who directly care for patients, the team includes students who serve as clinic manager, scheduler, quality of care manager and marketing director.

Hands for Health operates year-round when classes are in session. The clinic is open from 5 to 7 p.m. every Monday.

For more information or to speak with clinic staff about scheduling an appointment, call 989-774-1298 or send an email to

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