Occupational therapy brings patient possibilities to life

April 30, 2023 Swedish Occupational Therapy

Swedish occupational therapists gathered at a local pub this month to celebrate the month-long observance.


In this article:

  • April is Occupational Therapy Month. This year’s theme is “Occupational Therapy Brings Possibilities to Life.”

  • The occupational therapy team at Swedish brings possibilities to life for patients recovering from neurological injury or illness by putting the patient first and developing new and creative approaches to treatment.

  • This month, we’re honoring the people who make meaningful, long-lasting differences in patients’ lives all year long.

Getting patients back to their daily lives is the primary objective of rehabilitation medicine at Swedish. Diana Sonnega, regional director of rehabilitation services at Swedish, recalls one occupational therapist who went above and beyond to reach that goal.

“We had a young patient at the Acute Rehabilitation Unit (ARU) at Swedish Cherry Hill who had just had a baby and had a stroke,” Sonnega says. “Because she was in the hospital and unable to be home with her baby, she was emotionally low and wasn’t able to take advantage of her therapies."

“One of our occupational therapists put on her thinking cap to address the situation. She found a realistic baby doll to incorporate into the woman’s therapy. The patient could practice changing diapers and bottle feeding. It made her so happy and motivated her to take advantage of our other therapies. It helped her to get home sooner to be with her baby.”

That spirit of going the extra mile to help patients perfectly captures the theme of Occupational Therapy Month this year, which is “Occupational Therapy Brings Possibilities to Life.”  

Although rehabilitation medicine at Swedish encompasses occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology, we’re shining the light on occupational therapy this month in honor of the vital profession.

What is occupational therapy?

If you’ve never had occupational therapy before, you may think of it as help getting back to work after an illness or injury. But “occupation” refers to the everyday activities we perform and those that bring meaning and purpose to our lives.

Occupational therapy helps people engage in activities they want or need to do — such as getting dressed, making a meal, caring for a newborn or even ballroom dancing — that may have been disrupted by illness or injury. By using exercises and technologies that focus on reversing deficits in cognition, motor skills and visual perception processing, occupational therapists meet patients where they are functionally to help them live as independently as possible.

Swedish Cherry Hill is the neuro hub for all five hospitals in the health system, meaning complex stroke patients and other patients who require intense therapy typically spend time in its inpatient rehab unit, the ARU. Yet each hospital has an occupational therapy presence, and therapists provide care in all settings at Swedish — from the ICU to the ARU to the outpatient clinic. In the outpatient setting, occupational therapists are integral team members in three specialty care pathways: Neurological Rehab, Cancer Rehab and Women’s Health. With specialist certifications in all three categories, they promote function and quality of life for patients with personalized and evidence-based treatments.

Advanced technology 

One of the tools we use to help neurologically disabled patients is the Neofect Smart Glove, which helps track patients’ progress in the ARU (and sometimes after they leave it). The Smart Glove is a high-tech rehab device that measures movements of the forearm, wrist and fingers. It promotes motor learning and brain reorganization to improve arm and hand function for patients recovering from stroke.

We also have Restorative Therapies Functional Electrical Stimulation, or FES, systems that combine functional electrical stimulation with task-specific or motor activities to help with recovery.

Another tool we received earlier this year thanks to a philanthropic donation is called the Bioness Integrated Technology System™, or BITS. We’ve recently started using it to help patients recovering from a stroke or other neurological injury improve their visual perception and ocular motor impairments, as well as their hand-eye coordination and associated cognitive learning.

In addition, we’re researching virtual reality systems we could use as a rehabilitation tool to help customize therapy sessions for patients.

National recognition

Out of nearly 5,000 hospitals and more than 1,000 inpatient rehab units nationwide, the ARU at Swedish Cherry Hill ranked in the top 50 in the 2023 U.S. News Best Hospitals for Rehabilitation. Only 50 hospitals earn this ranking, which is based on quality of care, interventions, treatments and patient satisfaction.

Swedish Cherry Hill achieved the distinction because of its patient outcomes, including a 96.5% rating for preventing patient hospital readmission during rehabilitation.

“The devices we’ve been able to buy in recent years have really enhanced our program, especially the FES,” Sonnega says. “But, really, it’s not the equipment that sets us apart. We were nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report before we got the equipment. It’s really what we’re doing as a team for these patients. Our therapists always go the extra mile.”

A people-first mindset

Paul Chuwn Lim, M.D., serves as the medical director of inpatient rehab services, ARU and Neurological Rehab at Swedish. He leads a team of doctors who are “very, very approachable,” says Frank Rodriguez, OTR/L,MHS, supervisor of inpatient rehab services at Swedish. “I’ve been doing this job for 33 years and this is the easiest team of physicians I’ve ever worked with. You don’t have to hunt them down. They give you good insights in the moment. They’re a huge differentiator for us.”

Rodriguez says the ability of team members to work together and form connections with patients, emotionally and psychologically, allows them to deliver holistic care.

“Our team is so creative at devising ways to help people become independent,” Sonnega says. “Our people are truly what sets us apart.”

Recognizing Occupational Therapy Month

At Swedish, celebrating Occupational Therapy Month means honoring the people who make meaningful, long-lasting differences in patients’ lives all year long. Although each campus will mark the month-long observance in different ways, one of the main ways the team is commemorating the occasion is simply by getting together.

“We weren’t able to gather for several years because of COVID,” Rodriguez says. “This year, we’re doing a potluck, after-work events and other in-person celebrations. It’s what the team wanted, more than anything material.”


Learn more and find a provider

If you or a family member needs rehabilitation services after an illness or injury, or you want to learn more about rehabilitation medicine and what’s right for you, visit the Swedish Neurological Rehabilitation Medicine Clinic.

With Swedish Virtual Care, you can connect face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your family and health history. To find a provider, try searching our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

A new ride for rehabilitation

What women should know about strokes

Traumatic brain injuries: What you should know

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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