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Wednesday, July 6, 2022 80°F New York

A Day in the Life: Erica Kaplan-Gebler, Occupational Therapist, VNSNY Home Care, Manhattan

Welcome to “A Day in the Life”—a Frontline series that follows team members from different areas of VNSNY as they go through a typical day at work.

April is National Occupational Therapy Month—a time when we recognize the essential work that occupational therapists (OTs) do in addressing the practical functions involved with activities of daily living. On any given day, they might help a stroke patient learn how get dressed on their own again, work with a cardiac patient on conserving energy in order to perform practical tasks like cooking a meal, or teach a hip- or knee-replacement client how to bathe or shower safely, perhaps adding safety features like a grab bar. OTs essentially help patients regain the independence they need in order to live, safely and comfortably, in their own home environment.

Occupational therapist Erica Kaplan-Gebler is a four-year VNSNY veteran, which means that COVID-19 hit just about halfway through her VNSNY career.

Covering Manhattan from Midtown to the Upper East Side, Erica walks to her appointments, which often amounts to seven miles a day—with her backpack. “It’s a good workout,” she laughs But it’s her clients who are her real motivation.

“I’m not really a desk-job type of person, and given everything patients have been going through with COVID-19, I just wanted to be out there,” Erica notes. “My job is to help them get back to their everyday routines—making them comfortable, getting them back into the shower on their own, and helping them become independent again if they were independent before their illness or hospitalization. Those needs didn’t change during the pandemic.”

During those scary early days, Erica was often the only person allowed into residential buildings that were closed to visitors at the time. “Many of my elderly patients live alone and couldn’t see their families, so it was nice to be able to communicate back to their family members that their 90-year-old parent was doing okay,” she says.

Because her caseload was lighter during the peak of the pandemic, Erica also pitched in visiting patients in Washington Heights two days a week. “It was interesting seeing another neighborhood and what they were going through there—everything from different family supports to location specifics they had to navigate, like hillier streets!”

We asked Erica to take us through a typical day.

7:00 a.m.

I wake up, take the dog out for a walk, and then the first thing I do is check my tablet for new cases or any changes that might have been added by the scheduling team the night before. I see six to seven patients a day. In the work I do, it’s almost impossible to plan a week, or even a few days, in advance. I might have a general idea, but at any given moment, a client might have been transferred to (or discharged from) the hospital, or might need to cancel if they’re unwell, feeling too weak, or have a doctor’s appointment. You have to be ready for last-minute changes—even within a session, if the client isn’t up to it or has a different goal in mind. I always walk in with a plan, but I have to be very flexible at all times. I do try to carve out my day so that if something urgent comes up I can accommodate it: Somebody who’s just been released from the hospital, for instance, needs to be high-priority.

9:30 a.m.

My first appointment is usually at 9:30; patients tend not to want visits earlier than that. I live in Hoboken, New Jersey, so my typical commute is a bus to Port Authority and then one or two trains to my first visit. I might receive one or two new schedule changes during my commute, so I’ll make those calls on the bus or after my first appointment. Once I’m in the area, which pretty much spans Sutton Place/York Avenue to Fifth Avenue between 50th and 70th Streets, I walk everywhere. I love being outside.

Midday(ish)

I pack a sandwich for myself and don’t really take an official lunch break. I’ll usually eat it as I’m walking and typing my notes between appointments.

Any time during the workday

As much as I try to keep my schedule filled as changes happen, last-minute cancellations can happen at any time of the day, leaving me a pocket of unscheduled time between visits. If I’m near a park, I’ll sit outside and get ahead of my paperwork! There are some nice ones in my area. Or sometimes I’ll go get a smoothie or a coffee from a café, and try to maximize my time by calling doctors’ offices for orders or writing my notes.

4:00 p.m.

My last appointment is usually between 3:30 and 4:00. I don’t see patients in the evenings, but my workday isn’t quite over yet. I generally spend a few hours after that finishing the notes from my visits for that day.

Evening

When I get home, I’ll take typically a shower (I’m still following COVID precautions), have a snack, play with the dog, and say hi to my husband, who’s still working from home since COVID. Later on, I do some kind of workout, and then I’ll do a quick scan of the following day’s assignments to see whether there’s any prep I need to do. It’s a busy schedule, but I really like my team, and I love what I do!