Occupational therapy at Walnut Hills helping patients regain independence

Photo by Stacey Carmany. Jill Fischnich, a licensed certified occupational therapist and director of rehabilitation at Walnut Hills, demonstrates how a tub transfer bench can help patients become more independent at home.

*This story first appeared in The Budget’s May 2, 2018, Local Edition.

By Stacey Carmany
The Budget

If you’ve recently been hospitalized or undergone a major surgery, your doctor may recommend occupational therapy.

For those who aren’t already familiar with occupational therapy, the term may sound scary or a bit confusing, but don’t worry. The goal of this therapy isn’t to make you work but to help you get back to doing the things you want and need to do.

Jill Fischnich is a licensed certified occupational therapy assistant and the director of rehabilitation at Walnut Hills. She said one of the things that she frequently hears from new patients is that they don’t know what occupational therapy even means, let alone why their doctor would recommend it. “They think an occupation is like going to work every day,” she said.

And while occupational therapy could potentially encompass some of the routine tasks that patients might complete at their jobs if they happen to be employed, the primary goal is actually to help them regain their independence at home, according to Fischnich.

“We work on the everyday ‘can you bend down and put your pants on?’ ‘Can you walk to the bathroom?’ ‘Can you reach over your head to put dishes away?’” she explained. “That’s kind of why we call it occupational therapy because an occupation is something you do every day.”

What to expect

At Walnut Hills, occupational therapy is offered on an inpatient and outpatient basis at the Transitional Care Unit, which features a 2,800-square-foot therapy gym and 20 private patient rooms.

Whenever a therapy patient first arrives at Walnut Hills, usually after being hospitalized for an injury, illness or surgery, an occupational therapist will conduct an evaluation to assess the patient’s needs and the everyday challenges they will need to overcome at home, according to Fischnich.

“She kind of asks what you do every day, what you need to do at home, how’s your home set up because if they’re in a split-level house, that’s nice to know about the stairs,” she explained. “We also ask how high their toilet is, we ask how their bathroom is set up, do they have a walk-in shower or a step-in shower.”

Once the evaluation has been completed, an individualized therapy plan is developed and implemented. Depending on the specific situation and goals of the patient, this plan may include practicing daily tasks like getting out of bed, dressing and getting undressed, get- ting in and out of the shower or standing for a certain amount of time, according to Fischnich.

She noted that the therapy gym includes an area that is set up like a standard home or apartment with a bedroom and bathroom as well as a washer and dryer and working kitchen where patients can practice things like doing laundry, washing dishes and preparing meals.

“We try to make it as much of a house as possible – bedroom, kitchen, laundry room, bathroom – just to simulate, to make sure they’re safe,” she explained. “That way, they’re doing things that they would do every day. They’re not just coming here and doing exercises, and that’s it.”

At-home adaptations

For those staying in the skilled inpatient unit at Walnut Hills, the therapy plan may also potentially include the use of some special equipment to make completing certain tasks a little bit easier once the patient returns home, according to Fischnich.

“We have equipment that we call adaptive equipment, and it goes any- where from having grabbers that can help them put their pants on, and we have tub transfer benches where part of the bench is halfway over the tub so if they can’t stand up and shower, they can sit on it and just move over toward it,” she explained. “It makes things a little bit easier for them if they can’t fully complete it themselves.”

For patients recovering from back surgery, one particular piece of equipment may be especially helpful, according to Fischnich. “We have extended dressing sticks they can hold while they’ re sitting up- right, and they’re still able to put their pants on and pull them up so that way someone doesn’t have to be there every day helping them get their clothes on, every day helping them take their clothes off,” she shared. “It just kind of makes them more independent.”

In addition, the therapy team may also recommend some simple mod- ifications to the home itself like in- stalling grab bars next to the toilet or in the shower. “Sometimes, people don’t have grab bars at home, and they come here and realize, ‘Wow, it’s a lot easier with bars,’ so they’re more likely to put them in their house to make it easier,” Fischnich said.

Preparing to go home

Once an inpatient occupational therapy client has demonstrated their ability to complete daily tasks, with or without the use of adaptive equipment, the therapy team will then visit the patient’s home to look for potential safety issues and address additional patient concerns.

“We’ll just kind of assess what’s safe, and then we’ll see what they’re fearful of. Do they fear their bed is too high? Are they fearful going down the steps?” Fischnich explained. “We’ll kind of work during their last week of therapy on those certain points to make sure they’ re comfortable with going home, to make sure the family is comfortable with them going home. That way we know they’re as safe as possible before we send them home.”

Prior to discharging a patient, the team will also meet with the patient’s caretakers for a special training session. “We’ve had some people go home a little earlier than expected, just for whatever reason, and so we do train spouses or caretakers or children how to help the patient perform at their best and also make it easier on the caregiver as well,” Fischnich said.

Once the therapy plan has been completed and the patient has been released, the team remains available to answer questions and provide fur- ther assistance. “If they need any extra help, they’re always more than welcome to call us,” Fischnich shared. “Even our physical thera- pists, they’re very open, too. Every- one’s always open to helping people, making sure that they’ re safe, making sure they’ re the best they can be at that moment because we don’t want to see them get hurt.“

In addition to occupational therapy, Walnut Hills also offers physi- cal and speech therapies. To learn more about the rehabilitation serv- ices available at Walnut Hills, call 330-893-3200 or visit www.walnuthillsliving.com/rehabilitation.