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A unique Occupational Therapy Month winds down

A time of physical distancing has inspired some outside the box thinking for Places for People’s Occupational Therapists.

“I think we have more of this space to be as creative as possible,” Kristen Gramann said.

Gramann is the Fitness and Nutrition Specialist on Places for People’s Physical Health Integration Team. She is one of five licensed OTs on staff at Places for People, including two team leaders.

“It’s amazing the ideas I’ve been getting from persons served on how to stay busy, how to stay positive. I feel like a mutual feedback to one another where I’m bettering myself,” Gramann said.

Sam McCullough joined Places for People in January as the Occupational Therapist for the ACT-1 team.

“It’s really different because some of my favorite things to do as an OT are to take people out into the community and do things that will build more life skills, like go grocery shopping, things like that, and obviously that’s the last thing I can do right now,” McCullough said.

However, she still puts her skills to work. Often, McCullough is helping individuals cope with feelings of isolation during the stay-at-home order.

“It looks a lot different,” she said. “But I think that’s one of the good things about OT is that it’s really focused on adapting and changing things around.”

Working with individuals over the phone, McCullough helps find some leisure occupations on which to work. She said she tries to ask “what were people doing before that they can’t do now,” and help replace those activities with new options. The ACT-1 team has helped individuals get supplies or items to continue activities they used to like to do, are doing already, or would like to try.

Providing an example of a person making an adjustment, McCullough shared the story of a woman she works with who previously enjoyed cooking for her whole extended family. Now that gathering together isn’t an option, “she has been able to adapt this and create new recipes for herself during this time, and when things do return to normal, she can have new meals to share with them.”

It’s been a unique “Occupational Therapy Month” for the Maryville University graduate. McCullough performed field work last summer at Places for People, and was hired in January.

“Pretty early in OT school, I knew this was the setting I wanted to be in,” McCullough said.

Occupational Therapy originally began in the mental health setting and over the years has become more closely associated with geriatric and physical rehabilitation settings.

McCullough’s ACT-1 supervisor, Tim McKay, is also a licensed OT, and is an adjunct member of the Maryville University faculty. Gramann’s supervisor, Greg Seymour, is also a licensed OT, and earned his Doctorate of OT at Washington University.

There has been a lot of problem-solving going on by staff and person-served through this change in lifestyle.Tim McKay, ACT-1 Team Leader and Licensed Occupational Therapist

With McKay and Seymour on staff, Places for People has become a popular rotation site for OT field work for students from Maryville, WashU and Saint Louis University.

Gramann was in WashU’s OT program when she performed her field work at Places for People.

“Unlike OT in other settings, we really get to meet people where they’re at, help them with what they want to work on,” Gramann said. “We can do some of these outside interesting things like how can we cook differently? How can we exercise differently once I help someone learn how to shave their cat, it’s very interesting.“

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gramann has found that some individuals served by Places for People actually have more time to focus on fitness and nutrition goals.

She has worked with individuals over FaceTime, zoom, and the phone.

“If anything, the adherence to at-home exercise has been improved, I would say, for at least a handful of people that I work with, and I’ve also done a lot of walking and talking appointments,” Gramann said.

One woman who Gramann works with has avoided exercise due to being hampered by pain in the past, but has used it as a method of stress relief. Small exercises built her strength to the point where she now takes regular walks.

“I’m just inspired by the way that they’ve handled this. I’ve seen so much positivity come from this,” Gramann said. “A lot of people are really struggling right now with this, but I’ve seen a lot of people just growing, too.”

I think that’s where you get the success, because there’s no creating motivation for someone. It’s tapping into the motivation that they already have and all the people that I work with have immense motivation in particular things that they really want to work on.Kristen Gramann, Fitness and Nutrition Specialist