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Occupational Therapist Loves Helping Patients Thrive at Home

When Heather O’Hare, OTR/L, introduces herself to patients as their occupational therapist, there’s often confusion about her role and comments from retirees that they no longer have an occupation.

“To those patients, I say we describe every activity as an occupation. Bathing is an occupation. Getting dressed is an occupation. Those activities are meaningful tasks we do to complete our day,” said Heather (pictured above). 

While her physical therapy colleagues focus on helping patients restore function and movement, VNA Care’s occupational therapists look at helping people accomplish activities of daily living that many of us take for granted until an injury or health crisis stands in the way.

For example, a patient may return home from a hospital stay wanting to be able to get out of bed on their own and walk to the bathroom. A physical therapist would look at things like the patient’s mobility and leg strength, and the occupational therapist would examine how the person could safely get out of bed. There may be recommendations for special equipment, like a bed rail, and visits spent working with the patient on developing the ability to go from laying to sitting to standing.

Heather shared that occupational therapy was completely foreign to her until after she graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in psychology and took a job in the Commonwealth’s disability determination services. While reviewing medical records, she saw the impact occupational therapy had on people’s lives and started researching the field.

“I felt that paperwork wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I come from a long line of nurses, but didn’t want to do nursing. I knew I wanted to help people in a different way, and felt that rehab was right up my alley,” said Heather.

She proceeded to graduate with a master’s degree in occupational therapy from Tufts University and then gained experience at a rehabilitation facility before joining VNA Care nearly 10 years ago.

Heather said, “Seeing patients achieve their goals is the most rewarding part of my role. I love working with people where they live, and knowing that when I leave them they will be able to thrive at home.”

She’s been named to the Thanks for Caring Society, a group of VNA Care clinicians honored for their exceptional, patient-focused care through a charitable gift. She said, “We all work really, really hard. All of us care about our patients and their families so much. This recognition makes me feel appreciated and that what I’m doing matters.”