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Occupational therapy assistant values her patients

November 18, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Certified occupational therapy assistant Nancy Horst counts on her faith, compassion and skill to help patients recovering at home from injuries, surgery and strokes.

The Maryland/National Capital Homecare Association recently honored Horst as the Community Health Professional of the Year for her work with Home Health Care of Washington County Hospital.

"I truly believe God puts you in the right place at the right time to help people," said Horst, 55, of Maugansville. "I see each person as a precious son or daughter of God. Their value is in being, not in what they produce or how beautiful they are."

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Occupational therapist Katie Brinkley and Clinical Manager Shirley Stevens nominated Horst for the award because of her commitment to helping patients - in particular a young burn victim - heal emotionally in addition to relearning life skills.

Horst last summer spent about three days a week working with a young man who was severely burned.

She used her experience as a therapist, mother and friend to tackle the tough case, she said.

"I saw glimpses of the person he was on the inside - beyond the anger and the fear and the physical pain - and I encouraged the person I saw," said Horst, who declined to discuss in depth her role in the patient's recovery due to confidentiality.

Brinkley said Horst "worked above and beyond any goal I could ever include in a plan of care," using her talents to help the patient "see he was an important person and had many talents to build his life upon."

Well-liked by her peers and clients and their families, Horst is a "true patient advocate," Stevens said.

A teacher who left her job at Maugansville Elementary School in the early 1970s to raise her two children, Horst went to work for Washington County Hospital part time in 1980 as a nursing assistant because of the flexible schedule and her interest in the medical field.

She spent about six years working in the hospital's orthopedic surgery department. Horst eventually expanded the scope of her medical knowledge with another part-time job as a medical assistant in Dr. Francisco Andrade's Hagerstown office, she said.

Horst found her niche in 1989, when she transferred to the hospital's Home Health Care division as an aide helping patients with such basic life skills as bathing and dressing because the job blended her experience as both a teacher and nursing assistant, she said.

With the support of her husband, Thomas, Horst in 1998 earned her degree as a certified occupational therapy assistant from Penn State Mont Alto in Pennsylvania.

The goal of occupational therapy is to restore an individual's ability to function in daily life following traumatic experiences, Horst said.

Working under the direct supervision of an occupational therapist, she evaluates the needs of patients recovering at home and works with them to relearn life skills with or without adaptive equipment.

Horst, who each week treats 25 to 30 patients in Washington, Allegany and Frederick counties, also teaches primary caregivers how to help patients function more safely and effectively at home.

"Our goal is to return people to as independent a level as they can be. In the process, you teach people how to take back control of their lives," Horst said.

She works closely with occupational therapists, physical therapists and their assistants, nurses, social workers and nursing assistants to provide comprehensive care for recovering patients, she said.

Horst also volunteers at the REACH homeless shelter in Hagerstown, is an active member of Hebron Mennonite Church and has completed training to be a volunteer for Hospice of Washington County. She has no plans to retire from her work in home health, she said.

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