Healthy Living in the North

Creative new approaches help people in Prince Rupert get occupational therapy

Emily Bennett posing with a spectacular mountain landscape view.Northern Health has a strong vision for creating teams of health care professionals that centre on the person and their family, but making big changes can be challenging. This article is my story of bringing better care to people in Prince Rupert.

I’m an occupational therapist (OT). This means I help people solve problems to make it easier and safer to do everyday things:

  • Self-care: getting dressed, eating, or moving around the house
  • Being productive: going to work or school, or participating in the community
  • Leisure activities: sports, gardening, or social activities[i]

The problem

In 2017, I started working as an OT on the community health care team in Prince Rupert. When I started, there was a large backlog of referrals for me, some from as much as three years ago. It was impossible for me to see everyone quickly enough.

This meant a lot of clients were getting by at home without much support. Some of them suffered falls. Others couldn’t leave their homes because they had pain or problems with mobility. Others weren’t using equipment, like walkers, that could have made them safer.

I wanted to set things up so that people could get therapy earlier, before things got serious. This way, we could head off problems before they happened, and we could help keep people independent and out of the hospital.

But, using the normal channels, I didn’t have time to see all the clients. To solve this problem, I had to think creatively and try new things. I’m passionate about quality improvement, so I enjoyed this process. Here are some of the solutions I came up with.

One-time sessions with clients

The community health care team helped me set up sessions with clients. With their support, I was able to set up one-time face-to-face visits with people who needed help. During the visits, I offered education and gave people advice, such as how to use equipment, and also gave them referrals to community resources and programs.

A couple of months later, I checked in with the clients. They reported that they’d made changes based on my advice, and that they now felt safer at home and more confident. Some of them had started using walkers regularly, some had adapted their home setups, and others had asked for more support from family.

This was a great example of how health care teams can work together to improve their practice and build partnerships with other team members.

Really understanding where people needed help

In collaboration with other OTs across Canada, I created a questionnaire called Occupational Therapy Outcome Indicators to measure people’s overall functioning and quality of life. This made it easier to figure out exactly what areas people needed help with so that we could set goals and make recommendations. It also helped clients understand what I, as an OT, could and couldn’t do.

Working with other health care professionals

I also started three other partnerships with health care professionals with the idea of making services more efficient, enhancing collaboration, and making clients more able to cope on their own:

  • Together with a physiotherapist and rehab assistant, I set up a walker clinic.
  • I presented as a guest speaker to the Adult Addictions Day Program.
  • I presented to a falls prevention group at the Prince Rupert assisted living facility.

These programs let me see more clients at once and provide education and treatment in groups.

It was so beneficial to work with the physiotherapist and rehab assistants on the walker clinic. We completed assessments together and this model offered an opportunity for students that were on clinical placements at the time to learn to work collaboratively with other healthcare providers.

Making changes and trying new things can be difficult, but a preventive approach can help people stay safe, independent, and out of hospital. This also helps reduce the demand on the health care system and, most importantly, gives people improved quality of life and better health.

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[i] From https://caot.ca/site/rfs/res_for_students?nav=sidebar

Emily Bennett

About Emily Bennett

Emily is an occupational therapist from Northern British Columbia. She returned to work for Northern Health after completing her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in Hamilton, Ontario. She is invested in the well-being of our northern communities and is passionate about quality improvement and health promotion. When she is not immersed in her clinical practice, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her friends, her family, and her dog, appreciating the beautiful nature throughout

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Ditching the can opener: Tools, services, and tips to make healthy, homemade meals accessible

This article was co-authored by Rebecca Larson, registered dietitian, and Valerie Pagdin, occupational therapist.


Person cutting apple with one hand.

A rocker knife and cutting board with pins and suction cups makes cutting fruits and vegetables safe and accessible.

When you have a disability, making healthy meals at home can present additional challenges. Fatigue and difficulty with jars and utensils can create barriers to cooking. But there are ways to make cooking a bit easier so that everyone can enjoy healthy, homemade meals:

  • Buy frozen or pre-cut vegetables or fruit so that the preparation is already done.
  • Look for items that don’t require a can opener. Containers with screw tops (like some fruit and peanut butter) or those that are in pouches (yogurt or tuna) are easier to open.
  • Get your milk in a jug. Two litre plastic jugs with handles are easier to hold and pour than a milk carton.
  • Buy cheese and bread that are pre-sliced or have the deli or bakery slice them for you.

There are also many tools that can help you maintain your independence in shopping and cooking tasks. Using utensils with larger handles, cutting boards with suction cups to hold them to the countertop, or a mobility device to help you walk or carry items more easily can make a big difference in your ability to buy what you want and cook it the way you like it. An occupational therapist can assess your needs and help you find solutions that work for you in the kitchen. Ask your physician or primary care provider for a referral to an occupational therapist.

Accessible eating utensils.

Contact an occupational therapist to learn more about tools to make homemade meals more accessible – tools like weighted spoons, high-rimmed plates, and tremor spoons.

If transportation is a challenge, many grocery stores and service groups have grocery delivery options. Meals on Wheels is available in many communities and can provide meals if meal preparation is difficult or if you need a break. Food boxes, which contain fresh vegetables delivered on a regular basis, are available in some communities and may be an option to consider. Your local home and community care department can connect you to these programs.

If you need additional suggestions or help to make homemade meals more accessible, contact HealthLink BC Dietitian Services by dialling 8-1-1.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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