Occupational Therapy Assistant Students Help Residents Get Ready for Life

It takes more than one or two services to prepare acutely ill homeless residents for a stable, healthy life after Joseph’s Home. Nursing care, case management, wellness counseling and financial counseling are a few of the most obvious. But there’s an often-overlooked hero that is critical to preparing residents: occupational therapy (OT).

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help patients who are dealing with illness, injury or developmental delays to gain the skills they need to function and succeed in daily life.

For more than seven years, students in the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Program at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) have come to Joseph’s Home for field experience.

Rock Hall Field Trip
Tri-C OTA students and Joseph’s Home Residents on a field trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in March 2012

Preceptor Debbra Harbst Lisy, M.A., OTR/L teaches in the OTA program and assigns students to sites for field work. She said Joseph’s Home presents a unique opportunity for an OTA in training. “Being at Joseph’s Home helps students to see some of the non-traditional ways OT can be involved in a patient’s recovery, and to practice non-traditional intervention techniques,” said Lisy.

The students aren’t the only ones to benefit from their field experience. They have an opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of Joseph’s Home residents. For example, Lisy said students Demetrius Collier and Deanna Mixon recently learned that Joseph’s Home residents were struggling to organize their belongings and paperwork effectively, to the point that the disorganization could interfere with their access to care. The students worked with the residents to help them gain organizational skills to effectively organize their belongings and paperwork.

Sister Regina Fierman, CSA, is a certified OTA and a 1995 graduate of the Tri-C OTA program. She helped found Joseph’s Home and worked there from 2000 to 2009. She was instrumental in forming the partnership with Tri-C. “The men at Joseph’s Home come with various medical issues.  I was able to apply the skills that I learned as an OTA to help them regain the ability to take care of themselves, which definitely helped in getting them prepared to move into permanent housing,” said Sister Regina.

Joseph’s Home Executive Director Georgette Jackson believes so strongly in the value of providing OT services for residents, she serves on the advisory committee of the Tri-C OTA program. Jackson said, “Tri-C always sends us students who are prepared and willing to help. It’s a pleasure to have them at Joseph’s Home and I can’t say enough about the value they provide for our residents.”