The Lasting Impact of A Rhode Island Occupational Therapist
Athena Health Care Systems celebrates National Occupational Therapy Month throughout April. Occupational Therapists evaluate and help treat those afflicted with injury, illness, or disability. In conjunction with their patients, they work to develop goals to help the individual recover and maintain the skills and tasks needed for daily living and working. This month we recognize some of the therapists whose actions led to patient success.
RHODE ISLAND — The footprint of Athena Health Care Systems in Rhode Island spans across the state from Newport north to Woonsocket. At each of the five centers managed by Athena Health Care Systems, the Occupational Therapists make it their daily mission to help improve the quality of life for their residents.
Alycia Mello has been a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant since 2015. The Community College of Rhode Island graduate has been a COTA at Heatherwood Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in Newport for four years. The previous center she worked at was closing, but she wanted to stay in the industry and found Heatherwood.
“What’s kept me [at Heatherwood] is honestly my co-workers because I have grown really close to them and we’re like a big family,” she said. “I like being able to help people reach their goals and sometimes people just need someone who believes in them. Just making somebody feel seen I think is important and being able to be more independent with whatever it is they want to accomplish.”
She enjoys seeing the patients make progress. There is one story that has stuck out to her. It’s the same story Heatherwood Director of Rehabilitation, John Whitney, shared as well. A woman was suffering from a brain injury and could not retain memories for long. After rehabilitation, she is now living life as if it never happened. Mello says it was great to see her before and after therapy.
Occupational therapy drew her in because of her uncle’s journey with it after suffering from a stroke. She knew she wanted to help others and his experience was an eye-opener into what she could do as an O.T.
Building a empathic and compassionate rapport with her patients and working that into the sessions is important to her.
“It’s good to try to get to know them, what they like and dislike because then you can change your therapy sessions to things that interest them more because then you’ll get more out of them,” she said. “I think it’s important to have people who care because I feel like that makes the patients want to work harder.”
35 miles north of Heatherwood, Saint Awurama Adu, the Director of Rehabilitation, at Waterview Villa Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in East Providence had a similar passion that drew her into occupational therapy a decade ago.
Originally from Ghana, she and her family moved to Rhode Island when she was 10 years old. She has an eye for creativity and felt like occupational therapy would be a good avenue to express that characteristic. It also presented many job opportunities to work with different groups of people from children to the elderly.
“Ever since I was young I’ve been into helping people. I felt like I had the good qualities of it when I was researching it, just being compassionate, being a good communicator, and just having the passion for people that are sick and in need,” Adu said.
In her role, as Director of Rehabilitation she has been at Waterview for two years. She finds joy in seeing patients overcome their struggles and get to a point in life where they can reintegrate back into the world, regain confidence, and do what is most meaningful to them. Waterview embodies the “it takes a village” mantra and Adu says that is why she loves working at the center.
Her approach to therapy focuses on getting the patient back to what they used to do. The exercises are tailored around that. For example, dementia patients may not have short-term memory capacity but may recall their job when they were younger. If a patient was a homemaker, Adu will do activities like folding clothes and other creative techniques to make them comfortable while also having therapeutic benefits.
“I just love the fact that I’m able to help them and see how, based on our interventions that we do, how they come out of it and are able to do fulfilling daily living [tasks],” she said.
Motivation can be difficult, but she reminds the person why they’re putting in the work. A former patient who had suffered from a stroke was able to eventually go home. Adu said it took a lot of motivation and reminding him that his grandchildren were waiting for him. Success stories like that are why she said occupational therapy is a “great field” to get into and change people’s lives.