VGH’s Atkins Family Medical Clinic shows how a “People Forward” purpose makes a difference

(Article is part of Virginia Gay Hospital’s bi-annual publication, “Thrive” Spring/Summer 2017 issue. Online version can be found at

When families choose Virginia Gay’s Atkins Family Medical Clinic, they’re choosing to receive care and services from people who have grown-up near Atkins, or have lived there for many years.

Brenda Werning is an example of the connection Virginia Gay’s employees have to the Benton Community area and to Atkins. Growing up in Blairstown and graduating from Benton Community schools, Brenda has worked as a Physical Therapist Assistant at Virginia Gay for 20 years. She’s an athlete herself, and has certifications as a Pilates Instructor and as a Strength Training Specialist. Brenda also coaches soccer for her kids’ soccer league, in addition to all she does at home and at work.

“I thoroughly enjoy my work,” explains Brenda, “in part because I get the opportunity to help people who are our friends and neighbors.”

Joining Brenda in offering therapy services in Atkins is VGH therapy director Stacey Hodges, Molly Gardemann, and Ross Hanson. Stacey believes that providing personal attention and knowing not just patients, but entire families, makes work at Virginia Gay more enjoyable, and that leads to better outcomes for patients.

“It isn’t uncommon,” Stacey says, “to go on a home health visit and during the appointment the patient might talk about two or three of their family members I also know. In addition to familiarity with patients and their families, high job satisfaction results in less staff turnover. There are a lot of people in our department with 20 or more years of experience just at Virginia Gay.”

The small-town friendliness and service isn’t limited to patients receiving services at home or in the clinic. Stacey explains how her team will also go extra lengths to help children with developmental delays.

“Sometimes Mom or Dad just can’t take time from work to bring their children to an appointment,” Stacey says, “so we’ll go to their child’s day care center to provide therapy for speech, sensory issues, or other skills the child needs to make age appropriate developmental goals.”

Sports therapy is another area in which the Virginia Gay therapists are on the leading edge of new techniques. “Athletes want to regain mobility and strength as quickly as possible,” explains Brenda, “and that’s why sports therapies are often the most innovative. Because most of our therapists are athletes or very interested in sports, our group has certifications in kinesiology taping, dry needling, and A-stym. We also offer dry cupping as another therapy.”

Each therapist gravitates toward areas of personal interest, and for Molly Gardemann that area is lymphedema. Lymphedema is often associated with recovery from cancer surgery, but there can be other causes as well.

“There are two types of lymphedema ,” says Molly. “The most common is known as secondary lymphedema, and that’s caused by damage to lymph nodes or lymph vessels. The damage can be the result of infection, injury or trauma, scar tissue formation, surgery, cancer, or radiation for treatment of cancer. The other form, primary lymphedema, is a rare, inherited condition causing problems with the development of lymph vessels throughout the body.  Examples of primary lymphedema include congenital lymphedema, or Milroy’s Disease, early-onset lymphedema called Meige’s Disease, or late-onset lymphedema.”

“Once I became a licensed practitioner and furthered my practice with lymphedema,” explains Molly, “I became more and more fascinated with the process of how the body responds to treatment for lymphedema. Lymphedema can be well maintained with simple exercises and treatment interventions. It is a mysterious disease and there isn’t an abundant amount of research, so whenever there are new interventions or noteworthy outcomes, I get very excited.”
Co-worker Ross has special training in dry needling, a relatively new therapy technique. Though it can be confused with acupuncture, dry needling is used to reach tissues deep in the muscle that can’t be treated manually. The needle is a thin filiform needle used to stimulate trigger points in muscle or connective tissues. The name differentiates dry needling from wet needling, where the needle is used to deliver medicine.

Melissa Macku, Director of Operations for the Virginia Gay clinics, including Atkins, has tried dry needling and has been pleased with the results.

“I saw Dr. Mangold because I had strained my hip and was experiencing significant pain,” says Melissa, “and she recommended I try dry needling. There was very little pain until Ross reached an inflamed area, and even that didn’t hurt badly. After one treatment the pain subsided quite a bit and I only needed one more to feel much better. I like having treatment options that don’t involve prescription medications and this was certainly effective for me.”

“The great thing about being in the field of physical therapy,” Brenda says, “is that we get to see patients make steady progress, whether they’re recovering from joint replacement surgery, getting better after an accident, or regaining abilities lost because of a stroke. We also get the chance to watch other therapists help with speech and occupational therapies. It’s just amazingly fulfilling.”

Patients have the right to determine where they receive therapy services, so if the clinic in Atkins is more convenient for you than the hospital where you had surgery or recovered from an accident, be sure to take advantage of what’s available close to home.  For additional information, visit the Virginia Gay Hospital website at or call the Atkins Family Medical Clinic at 319-446-7800.