Real-World Rehab

Magee Community Skills Center Offers City Street Therapy

Curb cuts at Magee Community Skills Center

Images of the community skills center are provided by Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.

Rehabilitation can be a stressful and difficult experience as you test the boundaries of what you are able to do after a stroke, surgery or paralysis. But no matter how scary rehab can get, the scariest part might just be the day you step onto the street for the first time without the support of therapists and nurses. Jerry Segal knows all too well how hard that can be—an experience that led to an idea on how to prepare people for that first step and eliminate some of the fear.

After receiving therapy at Philadelphia-based Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in 1989, Segal was on his way to dinner. When he stepped out of the car, his walker immediately dipped into a pothole. Segal almost fell but regained his balance and started up a slight incline toward the restaurant.

“When I got to the curb, there was a sewer grate, and one of the legs of the walker went into the sewer grate. And again I almost lost my balance. I then went to step up on the pavement, and the step up the curb seemed like Mount Everest,” he says. “I finally got to the door of the restaurant, and it took me maybe 20 minutes to do so.”

The next day Segal was on the phone with the then president of Magee. “Why don’t we have a city street complete with sewer grates and potholes, and let the people become far more comfortable in the hospital setting so that when they leave the hospital they will have confidence that they can in fact ambulate over the city streets?” Magee asked the president.

The president agreed, and the Magee’s community skills center, founded in 1994, now sees around 1,500 patients a year, regardless of weather.

“There’s not a single patient that goes through Magee that does not go through the community skills center,” says Dr. Guy Fried, chief medical officer at Magee.Car and gas pump at Magee Community Skills CenterSituated on the sixth floor of the hospital and open to the outdoor environment, the center offers multiple surface textures including rocks and grass, different levels of curb cuts, front-porch steps and a full-sized car to help patients practice transfers. The center also has a gas pump and ATM. The center also enables families to learn how to make adjustments for various disabilities.

“We all want to be challenged, but we don’t want to be embarrassed by the challenges. Sometimes it’s nice… to work a gas pump where someone’s not waving or beeping their horn that you’re moving too slow,” Fried says.

While the center is great for helping patients become more comfortable, it happens to offer some clinical benefits as well. Patients don’t necessarily realize they’re actually doing therapy. Fried explains that the center removes the boredom from therapy and pushes patients outside their comfort zone. For example, a patient might have to lean forward beyond their comfort level to press a button on the ATM or might have to go down a ramp slowly, he says. In this way, patients learn how to use equipment and function in the real world—the end goal of therapy.Front porch steps at Magee Community Skills CenterThe community skills center wasn’t just an idea for Segal; it was a project in which he has invested a lot. Over the years, his foundation, Friends of Jerry Segal, has contributed more than $10 million to Magee through the Jerry Segal Classic, a golfing fund raiser now in its 23rd year.

The reason Segal raises money is simple.

“I was there for 4.5 months. And when I came in there I could blink and stick my tongue out and that was the extent of my movement,” Segal says. “After 4.5 months of being in there, I was able to ambulate out of Magee using just a cane. And I went back to playing golf again. Miracles can happen.”

Listen to a patient talk about the community skills center here.

Find out more about the Jerry Segal Classic here.

About the Author

Elisha Bury is the editor of The Mobility Project. She can be reached at