My name is Catherine O’Donnell, and I am one of five Housing Occupational Therapists working across Somerset.
I qualified in my early 30s, and had my son just as I graduated, so was really grateful to Somerset County Council in taking me on part-time as a newly qualified Occupational Therapist eight months later..!
The secondment opportunity came up seven years ago to work as a Housing Occupational Therapist, and I jumped at it, as I had always had an interest and passion, for the housing side of the job. I covered the South Somerset area for five years, and now cover closer to home in Taunton and West Somerset.
Housing Occupational Therapists work in partnership across housing and Adult Social Care, which makes the job varied and challenging. We largely take on complex housing adaptations, and cases where alternative housing is the only option, and support people through this transition.
Let me take you through my day yesterday:
8.30am Start working at home. Phone call from service user who has bid on properties and is facing eviction, so rather fraught. Look on Homefinder Somerset to see that they are top of the shortlist. Difficult as I don’t control the list, but, having developed a relationship with the service user, I see it as my job to try and navigate them through the process, and sometimes that’s just being a listening ear. Promise to phone housing association to check progress.
9.00 am Familiarise myself with government policy document on Housing for Older and Disabled People ahead of a meeting with the Council’s new enabling team later in the week. Hoping to try and push the case for creative approaches for some of my families whose housing is inadequate, but for whom Homefinder Somerset (Choice Based Lettings) traditionally does not have the right accommodation. All Housing Occupational Therapists keep a register of involvements to evidence these needs which has become essential with changes to building regulations.
9.35am Try and reach Housing Association – leave a message. Quick bit of paperwork, including a summary letter to a client where the Disabled Facilities Grant has had to change and compromises made – not an easy letter, but essential to be clear about what can still be offered. Also include information on signposting to local hydrotherapy pool, as we could not meet the need for a bath and wet room in the home and this might be something the family want to explore privately.
10 am Demonstration at Somerset Independence Plus of the new Gerberit toilet. A chance to gain more knowledge of products and discuss a couple of cases with the Rep. Thinking of how the new Bluetooth voice activation might help a new spinal injury case I have just picked up – if such equipment is appropriate, as very little hand function.
11.15am Quick case discussion with Grants colleagues to get advice on a complex extension where family want to help with the build. This is new territory for me, so I wanted to get some more facts before meeting the family and raising any expectations.
12 noon Work from home. Paperwork and emails, including advice to rehabilitation team and housing colleagues on how to progress their cases.
2pm Joint visit with Housing Officer, as my case looks on paper like it might result in a conversation around rehousing – the property is under-occupied and landlord is unlikely to agree to major adaptations. However the adaptations in reality are minor, so achievable by another route – I drive away relieved that better function can be achieved without putting the family through greater upheaval.
2.45pm Phone service user to ask if I can pop in and make a couple of calls/answer emails in the car before visiting.
3.00pm Visit service user and explain why we are unable to proceed with a Disabled Facilities Grant in this instance, following a feasibility visit last week with stairlift company and technical officer. Service user is understandably frustrated at the thought of a move. Discussed this at some length. Leave with a list of actions to follow-up to support moving this case forwards. My initial thoughts on the home had always been a move, but it has taken a great deal of time to get to this point of decision and acceptance for the service user. Feels a difficult outcome, as rehousing will not be quick either.
3.45pm Back into the main office for the first time today. A couple of colleagues need to talk through complex cases, including an update on one for my meeting with the Enabling team, so this is helpful information.
4.10 pm Read through cases ahead of Extra Care Housing conference call I’m chairing tomorrow morning. Also get back to a Social Work colleague with advice on whether it is suitable to progress a particular applicant. Also read through allocation cases for Disabled Facilities Grant meeting tomorrow, so that I have a clear idea of priority and can advocate for allocation if there is a waiting list. Last minute email to Housing Occupational Therapist colleague who is co-chairing the meeting to share my thoughts.
What makes working in this area special?
The best part of my role is the variety and the large amounts of people contact. I firmly believe housing has a vital place to play in enabling people to maximise their function and to live a fulfilled life – being a small part of helping them achieve this is special to me.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
The role is not without conflict – sometimes that’s challenging housing policies that don’t help clients progress, and sometimes, like my example day, it is communicating difficult decisions and compromise positions to service users who have already had to make more compromises than most in their lives. It’s not always an easy role, but I still find it immensely rewarding.
What is your advice to those thinking of applying?
You’ll need detailed knowledge of housing legislation, Disabled Facilities Grants and complex adaptation work is essential. Great communication skills are key when working with such a wide range of people and organisations. The role is varied and challenging and requires someone with drive and passion.
If you want to join Catherine, take a look at our current Occupational Therapy roles in Housing https://www.socialcareandmore.co.uk/adults/vacancies/ or contact Paulette Baker, our Principal Occupational Therapist on 07976693739.