George “Brick” Johnstone, chairman of MU’s Department of Health Psychology, said he never saw disabled classmates in school when he was a boy.
“Today, you see disabled children everywhere, and it’s a wonderful gain,” he said. “Now, we need to do the same with persons with brain injuries.”
Johnstone, a neuropsychologist at Rusk Rehabilitation Center, works with people with brain dysfunction and, outside the doctor’s office, has been active in improving health care for his patients.
Now, as one of two newly named Fulbright Scholars from MU, he is taking his skills to the University of Ireland in Galway to teach and research vocational rehabilitation.
“I think there’s much we can learn from other people and other cultures, and there’s much we can share with other cultures,” he said.
Similarities between Ireland and Missouri in size, population and demographics — like Missouri, Ireland has about 32 percent of its population living in rural areas — will let Johnstone compare the similarities and differences among international rehabilitation programs.
Johnstone looks forward to investigating one of the biggest problems people with disabilities face all over the world: how, with limited availability of transportation, to connect people who live in rural areas with specialists, who tend to practice in urban areas.
“We provide great services for people with disabilities when they are in the MU Health Care system,” Johnstone said. “But when we send people back home, they don’t have access to necessary rehabilitation services.”
Johnstone also thinks people in Columbia are not fully aware of all of the rehabilitation services at MU Health Care.
“If someone has problems walking because they broke their hip or if somebody has had a brain injury and can’t work because of memory problems, they need to be aware of the services we offer,” he said.
He treats and evaluates treatment for people who have brain dysfunction from injuries, strokes, seizures, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. He stressed that for these people, getting back to work or living independently is critical.
“It’s just in a person’s best interest to get them as active as you can in the community,” Johnstone said.
If that doesn’t happen, he said, they risk developing depression and additional physical problems.
Johnstone also stressed a societal perspective.
“If you don’t rehabilitate these people and get them back to work and independent living, they cost the system a lot ... if they can’t work, that’s 40 to 45 years that people are on disability rather than earning a salary, and they aren’t paying taxes,” he said.
Johnstone — who shares his nickname, “Brick,” with both his father and grandfather — will be in Ireland with his wife and two children from late August to early January.
Steven Osterlind, the other Fulbright winner so far from MU, will also head to the Emerald Isle — to the National University of Ireland in Dublin.
At MU, Osterlind teaches statistics and measurements. His specialty is educational assessment, which he will emphasize in Ireland.
“My principal role is to improve their research skills so that they can conduct research with the latest statistical methodology,” he said.
Osterlind will be in Ireland from late July to late January 2005 and will be joined by his wife and one of three children.
Established in 1946, the Fulbright program provides grants for graduate students, teachers and other professionals from the United States and other countries, in part to foster understanding between Americans and citizens of other nations.
Other 2004-2005 winners from MU could be announced before the end of October, a Fulbright spokeswoman said. During 2003-2004, MU had seven Fulbright winners, according to the program’s Web site.