Special to Iredell Free News

From helping a child improve their motor skills to teaching an elderly patient how to adapt after spine surgery, an occupational therapist’s role is highly diverse. Iredell Health System is celebrating Occupational Therapy Month by recognizing its occupational therapists and assistants for their dedication and commitment to their patients’ health and wellbeing.

Occupational Therapist Corey Raper (right) demonstrates hand range of motion.

“The possibility of how occupational therapy can positively impact a patient’s life is endless,” said Andrea Prall, an occupational therapist for Iredell Health System. “Occupational therapy is one of the most creative disciplines, and it’s sometimes hard to describe what occupational therapists (OTs) do because we work in so many different environments.”

OTs provide rehabilitative services to individuals with underlying impairments, such as an injury, illness, or disability, and help them participate in their daily activities, including working, dressing, eating, shopping, or getting around. They help patients work within their limitations to identify solutions that will help them gain independence and confidence in their daily lives.

OTs are the only professionals that help people of all ages increase their self-sufficiency and participation in daily activities, or occupations. They enable individuals to improve their quality of life and live their lives to the fullest, no matter their medical condition.

According to Prall, “occupation” simply means something a person does to occupy their time. This could include self-care routines, leisure activities, or home management tasks such as cooking or cleaning.

However, some individuals have a misconstrued view of occupational therapy and often categorize it as physical therapy. Prall said she likes to have a little sense of humor when explaining to a patient what role she plays in their care.

“A lot of patients often state, ‘I am just here to walk.’ I often state, ‘a physical therapist will teach you how to walk, an OT will help you from walking around with no clothes to getting dressed and putting on your dancing shoes,’ ” she said.

In the past year, COVID-19 has transformed an OT’s role tremendously, and visitor restrictions have made it especially challenging.

OTs at Iredell Health System have learned how to use video technology so a loved one can feel “present” during a patient’s treatment session and see their progress without being physically present.

In addition to their own struggles and impairments, patients have also had to cope with the loss of loved ones and isolation from their family and friends. Iredell Health System’s occupational therapy staff hopes occupational therapy can help patients move forward with optimism, hope for the future, and with an increased amount of independence and confidence.

At Iredell Health System, the occupational therapy staff provides a holistic approach to treatments and services through Iredell Home Health, acute and outpatient services, and the Iredell Skilled Nursing Facility.

Each of these settings require OTs to utilize different techniques and practices in order to administer specialized care to their diversified groups of patients.

In the home health setting, OTs treat patients in their own homes. This treatment may include teaching patients how to bathe, dress, cook, clean, or even live a meaningful life with their families, despite their condition.

“This is where so much of a patient’s life happens every day. This is a very intimate experience and it’s an honor to be able to work with patients on their challenges to resume a productive life again,” said Helen Kovacs, an occupational therapist for Iredell Home Health.

In outpatient services, an OT may help an individual adapt to the lasting side effects of a stroke or teach them how to perform daily activities with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or another chronic condition.

“Something as small as opening a jar or a tube of toothpaste, which we do without thinking about, can be challenging for many of the people I see,” said Corey Raper, an occupational therapist for outpatient services at Iredell Health System. “I love that I’m able to guide them in their recovery so they can get back to accomplishing these small challenges and doing these daily routines.”

“We do a great job at Iredell Health System being compassionate and kind, especially in these uncharted times, to our patients. Every member of our OT team is personable, approachable, and knowledgeable, which makes it easy for our patients to open up to us,” added Prall.

About Iredell Health System

Iredell Health System includes Iredell Memorial Hospital; Iredell Home Health; Iredell Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center; Community and Corporate Wellness; Occupational Medicine; the Iredell Physician Network and more. Iredell Memorial Hospital is the largest and only nonprofit hospital in Iredell County. The comprehensive healthcare facility has 247 beds; more than 1,700 employees; and has 260 physicians representing various specialties. Centers of excellence include Women’s and Children’s; Cardiovascular; Cancer; Surgical Services and Wellness & Prevention. The mission of Iredell Health System is to inspire wellbeing. For a comprehensive list of services and programs, visit www.iredellhealth.org.