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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Home Visit Safety

Published February 10, 2014 12:11 PM by Debra Karplus
Visiting patients or clients in their homes in rural central Illinois for adult wheelchair assessments, school-aged child evaluations, or birth-to-three early interventions, was how I spent much of my professional life as an occupational therapist in the 1990s. I enjoyed the work and truly felt like I made a difference to the families I worked with and the individuals I treated.

Going into some of the homes for the state-funded early intervention programs was often a real eye-opener.  One family had a state-of-the-art television screen that filled an entire wall, but no money for diapers for the baby.  Another family insisted I watch the video of them starring on a talk show, one that made Jerry Springer's seem high class; this was a "who's your daddy" episode, and the pregnant eighteen-year-old daughter of this family I serviced was trying to match DNA to determine her father.

A conversation with another family astounded me. As I worked with the baby with cerebral palsy and observed the four-year- old who unfortunately was too old for my services because she, too, seemed a little "slow," I asked the pregnant Mom as she puffed away on her cigarette, "Has your doctor said anything to you about being pregnant and smoking? Because there is a link between smoking and CP."  She quickly defended herself stating "Oh no, everyone in our family has CP, it's genetic".

Another family I visited for EI, for the two of their six who were under three, was just creepy. Unsavory-looking characters were roaming in and out of their home during every therapy session. I recently learned that they had all been murdered in that home, allegedly by a relative who is now doing time in "the big house". My second novel may very well feature some of these memorable characters!

People would accurately describe me as a cautious person; doing those visits never seemed risky. But, these are different times today. Looking back, I can see ways that an OT could be more careful than I was.

Before you leave your home for a home visit, make sure someone knows exactly where you're going and approximately when you expect to return to your home or office.  Drive a modest vehicle if you can; in the 1990s I drove Ford Escorts, a Saturn, and Honda Civics. Always park in the street not the driveway, so that you can't get blocked in. Be sure to conceal everything in the trunk while in the home; someone will break into a car for the loose change, so hide that, too. And, of course, lock the car.

Don't make yourself vulnerable. Home visits are definitely not the venue for fashion. Leave your jewelry at home. Avoid bringing a purse.

Be extra watchful if the only other person in the house is a male and you are female. Probably nothing will happen, but do be cautious. And never give out more information about yourself than is necessary.


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