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Patients recovering from strokes or from spinal cord or other disabling injuries will be able to get needed rehabilitation in Provo beginning Jan. 1.

On that day the Utah Valley Rehabilitation Center will open its 19-bed facility at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, said hospital administrator Keith Tintle.At present, those needing rehabilitation must travel to Salt Lake City or Ogden for treatment. "It is important when a patient is stabilizing (after an accident or surgery) to get them into a rehabilitation center as soon as possible," Tintle said.

"This center will be one of a kind outside of Salt Lake City. It will meet the needs of people who haven't been able to get care or who sometimes must go as far as Ogden," he said.

A search is under way to find qualified doctors and nurses to staff the 19,000-square-foot center. Tintle said the center's staff will not only provide care for patients but will also go in teams to train staffs in smaller hospitals throughout southern Utah.

"We have a commitment to give good solid service and to get people trained," he said. "We will also have an aggressive outpatient program."

Patients who use the center will notice a change from the somewhat sterile atmosphere of a hospital to a more home-like atmosphere. When a patient is one or two days from being released he or she will be moved into a transitional bedroom, which will be decorated and designed similar to a home, with kitchen facilities as well. Spouses will also be invited to spend the night as part of the transition.

Tintle was quick to note that this new unit will be customized to its patients, offering larger showers, non-skid surfaces and following other hospital safety regulations.

"This will be a unique unit, not like any other south of Salt Lake City," he said.

The $2.5 million facility, which is being built adjacent to the physical therapy and speech and hearing therapy units, will have the major treatment areas on its main floor. The second floor will be the residential area with a commons area, dining room and television room.

The center will also serve Medicare and Medicaid patients as well as indigents who need care but cannot pay.