What do Occupational Therapy Assistants do in hospitals…

As I walk into work, I quickly scroll through my phone to fill out the online screening tool that is required of me since this pandemic arose. (I probably should wake up earlier to complete this, but what can I say? I’m not a morning person). I reach the office at 8 am. Nobody likes a grumpy therapist in the morning, so I chug my coffee as I assess the patient census and complete chart reviews. I’m the only Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant in my small-town hospital, which designates me as a “floater”. I spend half my work day in the LTAC department and the rest in the main hospital (which covers six floors). 

My supervising OT in LTAC is very laid back and agreeable to letting me choose who I wish to see for treatment, barring any patient who is due for evaluation. I create my list, quickly decide on a treatment intervention for the day, and head to the floor. I typically see about 6-8 patients in this hospital. There are a mix of smiles and grumbles among the unit staff as nursing and respiratory therapists alike are attempting to get their mornings started with med pass and breathing treatments. I make my way to each nurse, inquiring if their patients are cleared for therapy. Then the purposeful and meaningful activity begins. In LTAC, these patients are seeking additional treatment concerning wound care, antibiotic, and respiratory therapies. They need rehab more than most patients due to their increased debilitation.  

Once I have seen everyone on my list for the morning, I return to the office to document the progress of my patients and communicate with my supervising OT about any concerns I have regarding our patients. Around 12 pm, I take a 30 minute lunch, and then I get started in acute care. 

There are four OTs in acute, so they compile a list of patients they would like me to see each day. I then plan my treatment sessions according to their diagnoses. (This can range from ortho, neuro, elective surgeries, cancer, respiratory failure… you name it, I’ve probably seen it.) I typically see 4-5 patients in the acute care hospital. However, in acute, there always seems to be more obstacles to treating a patient. For instance, in LTAC, I work with the same patients for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. I have built a rapport with them, and I get to know what times work best for them. It is rare that I see the same patient in acute twice. Considering this, these patients have a higher rate of refusal and being indisposed. Indisposed patients are those who may be in a procedure or working with another discipline at the time of my arrival. Patients may also be put on hold by nursing, physicians, or through my own clinical judgement, dependent on their status (i.e. tachycardia, hypotension, low blood sugar levels, etc.) 

I do love my job. I enjoy meeting new faces and hearing new stories everyday. I appreciate the fact that I get the chance to bring hope to someone who has been knocked down by disease or injury. I get to essentially love on these patients through physical activities and having heart-to-heart conversations that reach them on an emotional level. It is nice to meet their families and provide home education- most times.(You know you’ve met the handful of families that have a blatant disregard for the safety of the patient and suggestions of the healthcare professionals. Scary!) I enjoy watching a patient’s face light up when they use a sockaid correctly and they say, “Hey! That’s pretty neat!” Nothing feels better than giving back to someone what they thought they lost for good. 

COVID-19 has filled the past 7 months with anxiety, depression, and fear for not only the patients and their families, but us healthcare workers as well. I still see these patients in their separate units. Families are not allowed in, unless end-of-life measures are being taken. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the light through the shadows. However, I can proudly say that I work with a great team of healthcare workers who give their all to these patients. Honestly, the only thing we do differently for these particular patients is go the extra-mile with isolation precautions. I still take these patients to the shower, assist with dressing, grooming, and encouraging them to get out of bed. I’ve seen patients from as young as 24 to as old as 83 with this illness. This is an unfortunate time, but as an OT practitioner my job is to continue to provide hope and build connections with my patients, especially now when not many are able to visit with their loved ones. I am proud to be a clinician in this field, and even with the current circumstances, I wouldn’t trade my line of work for another. I believe as OTs and OTAs, we answered a calling, a calling to seek occupational justice for all individuals. 

Occupational therapy is a type of rehab that meets you where you are and assists you with the journey back to where you were or where you want to be while problem solving how to get there. It’s full of ‘ifs’ and ‘it depends’, but it’s always honest and sincere. Occupational therapy is up close and personal, but it also allows an individual to maintain their dignity and self-respect. In my personal opinion, occupational therapy is a pure form of love: soothing, tender, considerate, encouraging, and sometimes hard. We wouldn’t exist as a profession if our foundation was built on anything other than that. In my life, OT is not only my career, it is a lifestyle. 

Author: Ashley Meador

Bio: Hello all! My name is Ashley Meador. I am a COTA who is currently completing my Masters degree. My goal is to become an OT and hopefully specialise in Parkinson’s patients through evidence-based practices and experimental studies to increase functional independence and quality of life for said individuals. 

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