Independent living

PHHP alumna and students team up with Equal Access Clinic to offer occupational therapy services

By Michelle Champalanne
OT students Rachel Boeche and Amanda Tudeen, along with therapist Lindsey Dhans, review a home exercise program with a client at the Equal Access Clinic. The exercise program is designed to improve the client’s grip strength and coordination in order to reach the client’s goal of being able to open jars, carry items and write by hand.

OT students Rachel Boeche and Amanda Tudeen, along with therapist Lindsey Dhans, review a home exercise program with a client at the Equal Access Clinic. The exercise program is designed to improve the client’s grip strength and coordination in order to reach the client’s goal of being able to open jars, carry items and write by hand.

Occupational therapists can help people regain skills others often take for granted — such as the ability to get dressed or eat unassisted. Unfortunately many people who need these services cannot always access them because of a lack of insurance.

A College of Public Health and Health Professions alumna and a team of occupational therapy students have set out to change this for Alachua County residents with the establishment of the Occupational Therapy Equal Access Clinic in Gainesville. Lindsey Dhans, M.O.T., O.T.R./L, a 2012 graduate of the master’s in occupational therapy program, joined forces with the College of Medicine’s Equal Access Clinic — a student-run program that provides health services to patients who are uninsured and underinsured — to found the clinic in January.

“Access to rehab services is often limited, even for those who are insured,” said Meredith Campbell, director of specialty services for the Equal Access Clinic. “All too often, a patient’s occupational therapy rehabilitation benefits run out well before the full rehabilitation potential is reached.”

Ongoing rehabilitation through occupational therapy can help prevent additional illnesses or injuries that are caused by not being active, Dhans said.

“We know that occupational therapy can play a role in not only helping people regain function but return to independent living,” she said.

Activities such as getting dressed gain high value when they are taken away as a result of an injury, she said. The clinic works to continue rehabilitation services for clients so they can reach their fullest potential, even after their insurance runs out or if they don’t have it at all.

“It’s important for people to be able to engage in their everyday activities,” Dhans said.

Dhans works with occupational therapy graduate students Kelsey Iglesias, Shannon Plunkett, Meghan McMullen and Alyxandra Aldrich.

“This is something I felt very passionate about as well and I just wanted to be a part of it any way possible,” Iglesias said. “I think it’s great because we’re students having a chance to directly see patients and impact their care.”

Fewer than 10 free community-based clinics exist across the country for occupational therapy. Gainesville is now home to the only free occupational therapy clinic in Florida, said Dhans, who has a background in community health and education. She believes this clinic will be successful in Alachua County and hopes residents from other counties around the state will come, too.

“For me, being able to combine community health and education and bring life to this program was really exciting,” she said.

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