Janet Collins with family

Reflections on a Career at Brooks: Janet Collins

50 Year Anniversary

Dec 9, 2020

Brooks Rehabilitation is celebrating 50 years of caring in 2020. Throughout the year, we’ll be sharing 50 Stories for 50 Years. These will include our history, patient stories, employee highlights and recaps of the many ways we’ve grown through the years to better serve our communities. Through five decades of rehabilitation, we have been privileged to assist millions of people achieve their highest level of recovery and participation in life.

I can still recall dropping the envelope with my resume and cover letter in the mail and then remembering that I had forgotten to actually sign the cover letter. I thought to myself, “Oh well, I guess I am not getting that job.” Now, here I am 35 years later looking back on my career at Brooks and all of the changes, growth and miracles that I have been a part of or have witnessed.

I started my journey back in June 1985 as a recreation therapist. I was proud to be a part of a team that had such an impact on the lives of our patients and their families. Back then, our patients had a much longer length of stay and together with many other rec therapists along the way, we had a very robust Community Re-entry program. Our focus was to prepare the patients and their families to be able to return to a full life once they were discharged from rehabilitation. We worked on endurance, mobility and cognitive skills while they participated in activities such as going out to dinner, movies, bowling, fishing, pontoon boat rides and even overnight camping at Bethesda Park (Okay, so we were not camping in tents, but in air-conditioned cabins that were wheelchair accessible…. but still…) In the “old days,” aquatic therapy meant transporting three or four patients to the YMCA pool on Riverside Avenue and getting the patients into and out of their wheelchairs and the pool, without lifts.

Every year we would coordinate the Rehab vs. Rollers wheelchair basketball game. I remember years of spending Thanksgiving Day with our patients and their families. We always had a volunteer to cook the turkey as we coordinated with families to bring all the “fixings.” We had cookouts, beach parties and Halloween parties complete with a haunted house in what is now the wheel chair room, thanks to caring volunteers. We also founded PARS (Physically Adapted Recreation & Sports) which was a local chapter of Disabled Sports USA. The motto was “If I can do this, I can do anything!” With Brooks (at the time “Memorial Regional Rehabilitation Center”) as our major sponsor, we were able to introduce the disabled community of Jacksonville to activities like:

  • Adapted Water Skiing
  • Adapted Snow Skiing
  • Adapted Golf
  • Adapted SCUBA Diving
  • Wheelchair Racing

I remember getting up early for the Gate River Runs so I could talk my way around security to get up on the Hart Bridge to cover the metal grating for those participating in the Wheelchair Division. I was proud to see two of our members go on to win gold medals in the Paralympics.

PARS was only able to provide one or two of these special events a year and eventually disbanded. However, in 2007 Brooks created the Adaptive Sports & Recreation Program. I watched in awe as this program grew into what it is today. Through this program, our disabled community enjoy these activities as a part of their daily life, instead of a one-time special event. I will always cherish the time I spent in recreation therapy and PARS, and I am so glad that I was a part of the early days of adapted sports in Jacksonville.

In my time here, I have seen a lot of growth and was privileged to have my input considered in shaping its design of projects like the first outpatient clinic, the Brooks Behavioral Medicine program, the Independent Square design at the Healthcare Plaza outpatient clinic, the move to a freestanding hospital and even the therapeutic pool. The pool started out as full-size, but was reduced as cost estimates went up and soon there was no room for a deep end. It was really important to me to be able to work with patients on safety skills like treading water and endurance and I was able to convince the architects and leadership to include a deep “corner” even though they had never built one that way before.

After 12 years in the rec therapy department, my journey at Brooks took a turn and I transferred into the Information Technology department. There I was able to merge my clinical knowledge with my computer skills. In 1999, I worked with the team to transition our nurses and therapists from paper documentation to an electronic system called Meditech. I remember Doug Baer, our President and CEO, requesting a Palm Pilot, and I was charged with figuring it out and setting it up for him. At first, I thought it was just a fancy gadget, but when I worked with it and saw the power in my hands, I went out and bought one for myself that night.

Later in my career, I was given the opportunity to develop the analytics team to help instill “data driven decision making” at Brooks. I had the opportunity to work on implementing eBrooks, our employee intranet, and helped “write the book” for CompleteCare (our bundled payment program). I have seen this team take a basic concept and create something beyond my expectations with the Care Compass.

Over the decades, I have seen many people come and go. I may not have agreed with all the decisions and directions Brooks has taken, but I have ALWAYS believed in its mission! I have had the privilege to work with some really incredible people. I am excited to continue that opportunity in the Data Solutions Department, especially as I see the amazing work this group has done to for the COVID-19 response to help support the Command Center and the front lines.

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