Living Better Lives: UF’s OT Program a Community Asset
Five years ago, Miranda Tippie began to gather wilted flowers that a Findlay florist was discarding. Every Tuesday, with permission, she would collect the colorful blooms that didn’t meet the shopkeeper’s exacting sale standards, and deliver them to the home of her client who was suffering from a delusional disorder that was anything but beautiful.
“She really wanted to work in a flower shop,” but her illness prevented that, said Tippie who, at that time, was completing her graduate fieldwork for The University of Findlay’s master of occupational therapy program. And so Tippie brought the flowers to her client, who would then carefully arrange and display them throughout her house.
“She had some pretty negative behaviors from time-to-time. This gave her something positive and meaningful to do,” Tippie explained.
The University’s Occupational Therapy Program, since its inception in 1995, also has blossomed into a successful and celebrated entity, particularly because of its outreach. It offers a five and one-half year course of study that includes weekend and traditional structures that cater to full-time students and working professionals.
In 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked The University of Findlay’s Master of Occupational Therapy Program 58 out of 151 nationwide. On Oct. 24, four faculty members, including Mary Beth Dillon, O.T.D.; Thomas Dillon, Ed.D.; Rosalie King, D.H.S.; and Tippie, now the program’s clinical coordinator for community-based practice, received the Ohio Occupational Therapy Association’s Model Practice Award in Education for outstanding community collaboration that offers students opportunities to practice occupational therapy within local settings and provide research opportunities.
“Every single (program) faculty member has a role in the community,” said Mary Beth Dillon, O.T.D., associate program chair, who also noted that faculty and students have contributed to the effort to bring occupational therapy to the community.
Program leaders in 2002 began working with the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, The Community Foundation, Century Health and the Ohio Department of Mental Health to form community partnerships. The goal was to provide students with more hands-on learning while simultaneously meeting local residents’ needs that reached beyond the scope of other types of services already being offered to them.
Century Health clients were the first to benefit, and more from elsewhere have followed.
Defining the Discipline
The effort mirrors the vision of the American Occupational Therapy Association, which aims, in part, to provide occupational therapy services to more diverse populations and practice areas. Dillon noted it has taken years to form partnerships outside traditional settings such as hospitals and nursing homes. Educating people about occupational therapy’s purpose was tantamount.
Occupational therapists seek to fill gaps so that clients ranging from premature infants to the elderly can live more fulfilling lives. They “help individuals with mentally, physically, developmentally or emotionally disabling conditions to develop, recover or maintain daily living and work skills,” University literature explains. They may, for instance, help a child learn effective homework skills, or help an individual with a physical impairment find alternative ways to cook.
The job requires flexibility and creativity, as exemplified by Tippie’s approach to assisting her client who found meaning in arranging flowers.
As part of the curriculum, students have to complete several fieldwork experiences. The program sends students to sites all over the country, such as the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, for fieldwork. However, Findlay students also have opportunities to provide occupational therapy services in local facilities, including Century Health, the Hancock County Department of Job and Family Services, the Family Resource Center, the Hancock County Probation Office, and the Hancock County Justice Center.
At the Family Resource Center and at Century Health, University students work with pediatric and adult clients who have behavioral or mental health issues. Each student manages a caseload of 15 or more clients who have difficulty with occupational performance. They work with children who may have sensory processing deficits, verbal delays and other challenges, and develop treatments for them. Children with vestibular problems that contribute to constant movement, and sensory deprivation issues, both of which can consequently affect their concentration and learning, are taught ways to improve their focus. Family dynamics are taken into account. Documentation requirements are stringent and effective time management is imperative.
Benefits Behind Bars
The same holds true for those working with adults, but problems such as substance abuse and unhealthy relationships are also addressed. That is particularly the case for occupational therapy students working at the Hancock County Justice Center and with those who receive services at the probation office. Outreach in those areas began two years ago and has been welcomed by jail staff, who say they’ve seen positive effects with the inmates. Initial data is being analyzed to determine if the program’s work has had any effect on the participants’ ability to successfully reintegrate into the community.
Tippie said the occupational therapy students at the jail conduct group sessions to improve inmates’ social skills and to better prepare them for societal readjustment when they are released. Inmates are provided with methods for interacting more positively with others, with job interviewing tips and with money management skills. They’re also instructed in how to locate and use the myriad social and health-related resources that are available to them throughout the region so that they don’t fall back into old, destructive lifestyles and thought patterns.
“The financial lessons really do help (the incarcerated),” said Tippie. “A lot of times they have no idea how to make money for a living in ways that aren’t illegal. They wonder how they’re going to make ends meet with a legal job that pays far less than what they were earning.”
Many understand in theory how best to spend and save money from a paycheck, but “just don’t know how to apply that knowledge,” said Ryan Kidwell, jail administrator.
Some occupational therapy interventions for inmates involve teaching concepts that may appear oversimplified to many, but which help clients make lasting and meaningful connections. For instance, Tippie said one jail inmate told the occupational therapy student assigned to him that if she had not encouraged and taught him how to play a board game, he would’ve never taken the initiative to teach himself, let alone think to play in such a manner with his children.
Kidwell said the jail’s occupational therapy component is now coupled with case management, a peer support service and a family peer support program to help inmates at all stages of their incarceration and discharge. The peer support service recruits former jail inmates and others with previous problems, such as substance abuse, who have overcome their dilemmas and want to help others do the same.
Laura Kelly, an occupational therapy graduate student who has been completing a fieldwork experience at the justice center, said she thought she made a positive difference with a woman interested in becoming a peer support mentor.
“In order for her to apply for that position she had to write out her story and explain how she is working on beating her addiction,” Kelly said. “So, during one session, we began to write her story together. Halfway through, she looked at me and said that she has never told anyone this much information about herself and her addiction because she is so ashamed of her past.”
“I’m very impressed with the (jail) program,” and some former inmates evidently have been as well, said Kidwell.
After being released, one man who lived two counties away made it a priority to find a ride back to the Crawford Street jail to retrieve his occupational therapy program completion certificates, Kidwell explained. Others have requested that a post-jail program be implemented to further assist those during their first transition weeks and months, when transitioning can be the most difficult.
“I think it’s a big step for us. OT has done a fantastic job and we’re very pleased with the (University) students and staff,” Kidwell said.
The University’s program touts a 100 percent job placement rate upon graduation, which reflects the increasing national demand. According to 2012 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for occupational therapists is projected to grow 29 percent through 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. The average median pay in 2012 was $75,400 annually.