Posted on April 12, 2023

Coming Full Circle: Meet a Trailblazing Occupational Therapist from West Michigan

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Outpatient Dorothy Singer

It was in the 1960s when Dorothy Singer found her calling. A college student at the time, Dorothy was working for Easterseals as a recreation planner for children and adults with disabilities. Two weeks into the job, she knew she’d found her life’s calling.

Dorothy, of Grand Rapids, transferred schools to Eastern Michigan University to pursue her newfound passion. At the time, she found EMU offered a rare program of study that aligned with her goals: Occupational Therapy.

“Occupational therapy gave me the opportunity to be creative and imaginative in catering therapeutic interventions to specific needs,” said Dorothy, who even had the chance to perform a clinic rotation at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital during her clinic training.

“I had the privilege of helping people learn or relearn skills to help them gain their independence.”

Dorothy didn’t realize she was pioneering the start of occupational therapy in West Michigan. Being one of the first in her profession, she had to innovate and adapt. Many hospitals didn’t offer the space or resources needed for an OT.


Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Outpatient Dorothy Singer

As an OT, she knew how to be resourceful. She turned everyday tools into OT tools – using dowels with clothespins as dressing sticks, bending silverware to adapt to the patients’ needs and cutting milk jugs for sock aids. Dorothy would draw pictures of the type of equipment she needed, and the hospital facilities team would make them for her.

Today, the tools look a little different. And an OT’s ability to adapt, and help others adapt, has evolved into a fundamental aspect of physical rehabilitation.

In August of 2022, Dorothy returned to Mary Free Bed as a patient after a fall that damaged her spine.

“Having been the patient versus, being the therapist, has been a required adjustment,” said Dorothy. “It has shown me that some things are much easier to accomplish with the new, updated supplies and equipment, and how readily available they are.”

WHAT IS OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY?Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Outpatient Dorothy Singer

Occupational therapy consists of working with patients on everyday activities (occupations) like showering, dressing, brushing your teeth, making meals, doing laundry and more. Occupational therapists at Mary Free Bed help patients to increase independence after an illness, injury or disability.

Occupational therapists at Mary Free Bed have extensive training and experience treating patients with a variety of conditions, from children to adults. Each treatment plan is customized to treat patients’ conditions and help meet their goals. This includes:

  • Evaluation of skills
  • Restorative therapeutic techniques to improve range of motion and coordination
  • Use of specialized rehabilitation technology
  • Therapeutic exercises to improve strength and flexibility
  • Recommendations for adaptive devices and strategies to accomplish tasks
  • Education for loved ones

“OTs specialize in helping people return to their activities of daily living” said Amy Haroff, outpatient occupational therapist at Mary Free Bed. “Without OT, someone might learn how to roll and sit on the edge of the bed, but not be able to dress themself; or they might be able to walk into the bathroom, but not be able to shower on their own or style their hair.”

April is Occupational Therapy Month – it’s our opportunity to celebrate these dedicated health professionals who use meaningful activities to help us recover, work towards well-being and live our best lives more independently.

For more information on how OT services might be helpful to you click here.

If you’re an OT interested in working with our outstanding teams across Michigan, stay up to date with our job openings here.