Occupational therapy helps patients reassemble pieces, regain lives

By Kevin Boozer

April 30, 2014

NEWBERRY — Patients at Newberry County Memorial Hospital have an ally in their quest to regain stamina, endurance and skills related to self-care. This April occupational therapists were recognized for their service to a variety of patient populations during Occupational Therapy Month.

Michelle Huet, a 22-year occupational therapist, has worked in variety of skilled nursing facilities, in the school system, doing home visits, as an early interventionist and in home health.

One part of the job she loves most is solving puzzles.

Though all inpatient patients she works with at NCMH share the goal of needing to recover from an illness or injury, she said that each patient is something of a puzzle.

“So much of our work involves observing adults and offering specific suggestions (of ways to improve body mechanics and/or physical functioning) in a diplomatic but purposeful way,” she said. “Occupational therapists do a lot of problem solving depending on what people’s needs are.”

Huet said NCMH offers skilled nursing services on its second floor and part of those inpatient services include occupational therapy.

During OT, patients are guided to either re-learn activities of daily living or to learn new ways to do activities of daily living.

If a patient could stay alone prior to a stroke, illness or injury, then the occupational therapist would work with the patient to get back to that level of self care, if possible.

“Our goal is to get them returned to the activities of daily life whether that be working full-time, driving, attending church activities and other parts of living that extend beyond independent self-care,” she said. “We work on goals, adaptability, and on helping people become comfortable with themselves because we all living changing lives but set new goals.”

Techniques include finding ways to work smarter to achieve a goal, such as using a grabber to pick up an object on the floor instead of bending down and straining one’s back or risking a fall. Other techniques help patients with their balance or standing, or being able to get into a shower or wash dishes.

For inpatient treatment of a stroke patient who suffered right side paralysis, for instance, focus would be on basic skills such as sitting up, core strength and getting muscles activated for the patient to use. A rehab center or skilled nursing facility may be required so the patient could build up tolerance to more work. The occupational therapist reports to a medical team to determine how much therapy a patient can tolerate and what his or her objectives should be. The plan is adjusted accordingly as the patient is treated.

Patients learn through doing hands-on activities, so occupational therapists use object lessons and learn to teach in the moment.

Much of the gains come from positive feedback and a collaborative partnership.

Huet earned a bachelor’s degree from San Jose State where she studied neurology, development, pediatric therapy and working with people with autism among other areas.

She said creative people who love to learn, solve problems and help others overcome challenges are what she would look for in prospective occupational therapists. Now the field requires a master’s degree from a graduate program that typically takes two and a half years to complete.

Huet said the occupational therapist provide an important piece to the therapeutic puzzle because without OT therapy is incomplete.

“A lot of it is confidence (in the injured part) and getting a patient to realize (for instance a stroke patient to learn a leg that once was weak can support the patient so it is okay to put weight on it again),” she said. “The most rewarding part is developing relationships and getting a patient to believe in themselves.”

For more information on NCMH occupational therapy see