Occupational Therapist Explains How She Prepares Patients and Families to Return Home
Jeanice Sumwalt, OTR/L, is an inpatient occupational therapist in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at Shepherd Center.
Q: What’s your role at Shepherd Center?
I have worked as an occupational therapist (OT) at Shepherd Center for three years in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. As an OT, my goals for patients center on helping them develop, improve and maintain the skills needed for activities of daily living.
In the inpatient setting where I work, that usually starts with activities like showering, dressing and grooming. On days when we work in the gym, we target upper-extremity strength, coordination, vision and any other areas affecting daily living performance.
I work with a variety of other disciplines on the therapy team. We are always communicating about what is best for our patients overall and make sure to support each other’s goals.
Q: How do you help patients and families prepare to transition home after leaving the hospital?
As someone who works with people who have sustained brain injuries, all my patients require varying levels of assistance with their daily activities after returning home. I attempt to incorporate family training throughout a patient’s stay and get the family hands-on as early as possible with helping to assist their loved one. Often, we will do several formal family training days to get everyone ready for the transition back home.
During training, I show our patients and families how to make their home environment as safe as possible. I also show the family members how to cue the patient to do things on their own instead of having the caregiver do everything for them. This helps the patient regain independence and continue to progress toward their rehabilitation goals after they leave Shepherd.
Q: What are some examples of how to make a home environment safe?
Many of my patients discharge needing a ramp to access their home. I provide information to families on ramp specifications to ensure their loved one has a safe way in and out of the house. We also review modifications to their bathroom and bathroom equipment to set the patient up for toileting and showering in the safest and most independent way. Finally, we review strategies to modify the environment to reduce fall risk and minimize safety concerns for patients with cognitive impairments.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
I get to go along the rehabilitation journey with our patients. I’m here day in and day out, getting to see my patients in the beginning when things are hard and at the end when we can look back and see the progress we’ve made. It’s really special to be part of this chapter of someone’s journey.
■ University of Georgia Bachelor of Science in Psychology
■ Brenau University Master of Science in Occupational Therapy
■ Jeanice has two dogs and a 30-year-old horse.
■ She once took a six-week solo backpacking trip to South Africa and lived on a game reserve.
■ Jeanice comes from a very big family and has 52 first cousins.
Interview by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.