Conn. Occupational Therapists Working To Better The Lives of Their Patients
Athena Health Care Systems celebrates National Occupational Therapy Month throughout April. Occupational Therapists evaluate and help treat those afflicted with injury, illness, or disability. In conjunction with their patients, they work to develop goals to help the individual recover and maintain the skills and tasks needed for daily living and working. This month we recognize some of the therapists whose actions led to patient success.
CONNECTICUT — The role of an Athena Occupational Therapist is to help their residents relearn or maintain their ability to do daily functions. That can include brushing their teeth, getting dressed, or opening the fridge. Across the 21 Connecticut centers, Athena’s Occupational Therapists have a passion to treat patients with respect and dignity and help them get back to a sense of confidence and normalcy.
Erin Crowley has been a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Bayview Health Care in Waterford for almost three years. Originally from Haddam, she worked at a rehabilitation center in Massachusetts before returning to her home state. This is her second career which she has now been in for 15 years. Prior to O.T., she worked in hospitality but had a calling for occupational therapy, especially in the elderly population.
“I did consider nursing but the thing that attracted me most about therapy was the ability to develop a closer relationship with the patient and I think that’s probably the best part of my job,” said Crowley. “With each patient, I have a clear-cut relationship and that’s how you deliver your better treatment because you know about their life, their home, their families. I see them every day for several weeks sometimes and that was really appealing for me to see somebody through from their admission to their discharge.”
She spends most of her time on the short-term rehabilitation units. That’s where residents relearn the skills needed to successfully discharge back into the community. Crowley will watch and help instruct them on how to move to the end of the bed, stand up, get to the bathroom, pick their clothes, and much more… all while seeing how they manage their body. She will offer solutions and demonstrate the best and safest way to get the tasks done.
“The nature of occupational therapy is really centered around activities of daily living and self-care and the patients being able to do very basic things for themselves like bathing, dressing, and toileting, so being in the room is necessary at that point,” she said. “It’s very personal and it’s also always a priority for the patients.”
During her career as an OT, Crowley has worked on seven teams across four states, but notes the team at Bayview is her favorite. In the opposite corner of Connecticut, MaryKate Terzini at Valerie Manor in Torrington has a similar experience.
Terzini has spent 20 years as an Occupational Therapist, 15 of which have been in Connecticut. She worked as a travel therapist for five years in Oregon, New Mexico, Delaware, and Wyoming. In her role at Valerie Manor, she oversees evaluations and short-term rehabilitation stay treatments. It was a homecoming when Terzini joined Valerie Manor six years ago as she grew up just minutes from the center.
“Skilled nursing and short-term rehab care, I really do like. I love the people, the patients you meet,” she said. “I definitely wanted a people [focused] interactive job and something with flexibility and problem-solving and O.T. meets that criteria.”
Terzini likes to help people reach their goals. She recalls one patient whose stay was complicated by the pandemic and surgery but was later successfully discharged and continues to send the team photos of him bike riding or mountain climbing.
“Everybody’s goal for getting home is different so I like being able to meet that goal. And because of that, you do end up problem-solving, you do end up doing real-life tasks because sometimes it’s not what’s important to me, but it’s what’s important to the resident,” she said. “It really is a team [effort] and good problem-solving together, figuring out what works for our patients so we can get them back to doing what’s important to them.”
Terzini adds an Occupational Therapist can take a deeper look into what may be causing the issue. That can include physical, mental, or cognitive challenges.
15 minutes away from Valerie Manor, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Monika Olszewski at Litchfield Woods Health Care Center also takes the approach of looking at the person as a whole. Olszewski has been at Litchfield Woods for seven years. Her first job out of college was at an outpatient pediatric clinic in Southbury where she simultaneously worked at Litchfield Woods. Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, she put all her focus on the patients in Torrington.
“No matter what it could be, we’re trying to obtain whether it’s their prior level of function or to get to at least something remotely close,” she said. “It’s gratifying because I love it when someone does get back to their prior level. Yes, there are hard moments where you have a patient that can’t get back to that.”
Since her high school days, she has worked alongside those with cognitive and physical impairments. In college, she had a classmate who explained O.T. and, from that moment on, Olszewski knew that was her calling.
“If I can make someone’s day just by smiling, maybe it was a bad day of function and they couldn’t perform, but emotionally they felt better, I feel like I’ve done my job in that way because at least the next day we can try again,” she said. “It makes quite a difference when someone enjoys their job because it conveys with their patients and their patients can feel comfortable.”
The three therapists say relationship building is an important part of their job. In their roles as Occupational Therapists, when they put their best foot forward, they often encourage their patients to do the same. That’s what creates the success stories behind their motivation.
“I feel like I’m really making a difference in people’s lives and helping them and teaching them,” Crowley said. “I am really happy that I’m very proud of what I do.”