Emerging Opportunities for OTs in Home Assessments/Modifications-Carolyn Sithong

Universal/accessible design of the home from an occupational therapy and a construction perspective. This blog is part of a quest for cool, convenient, functional design that makes life safer, easier, and as maintenance-free as possible. It's about the lifestyle.


Opportunities in the field of home modifications and assessments are beginning to open up for occupational therapy.  On Friday, April 17th from 2:00-3:30 Carolyn Sithong, Karen Smith, Tori Goldhammer, and Tammy Richmond all experts in the field of OT home modifications and 4 of the 5 with their own home modification businesses are going to be speaking at the AOTA Conference in Nashville.



I had the opportunity to talk with Carolyn Sithong, OTR today.  Carolyn is a leader in the home modification field for occupational therapists and owns a successful home modification company that focuses on Aging-in-place called Home for Life Design (www.homeforlifedesign.com).

Aging-in-Place House Modification by Carolyn Sithong, OTR

Carolyn's Story:

You may remember Carolyn is the OT who is modifying the AARP home in Florida, see house in the above picture.

Carolyn has been working in the home modifications field since 2008.  Carolyn decided to get started in the home modifications field while working for a hospital.  She saw a need for home evaluations for accessibility when they would discharge a client with a severe injury, such as a spinal cord injury and tell the client to call a handyman to build a ramp.  There were so many more issues and needs people had that just weren't being addressed, so 'Home for Life Design' was born.

'Home for Life Design' is a business that caters to the 'aging-in-place' market doing home assessments for consumers and working as a consultant with builders to make homes safe and accessible.

Doors Being Opened to OTs :

Since Carolyn started her business she has been working to help people to recognize occupational therapy as a necessity for safe and functional home modifications for people who are aging or people with disabilities.  She says it has been a difficult battle but lots of doors are being opened for occupational therapists doing home modifications with some big players (such as AARP, and NAHB) recognizing OT as an integral part of making homes safe and accessible.  Now the worry is not enough OT's will be trained and ready to fill the need.  So Carolyn is in the process of developing an app to assist with home evaluations, more on that later.

Opportunities:

Carolyn has been involved in a pilot program pairing builders with occupational therapists in which the builders pay the occupational therapists for working with them on homes to increase accessibility.  As the aging-in-place market continues to grow and occupational therapy is recognized as an important part of making homes accessible, there will be more opportunities for OTs who are interested in working with home modifications both as business owners and as employees, so we OTs need get ready.

Apart from the pilot program and AARP opportunities, Carolyn is finding that people in the private sector have money they are willing to pay for the expertise of an occupational therapist.  She states her clients appreciate that she is able to evaluate their bathroom and then give them several different ways to make their bathroom accessible through adaptive equipment and home modifications.  Her approach is more of a soft sell with choices rather than a hardsell by a contractor who may not be aware of all the possible options for accessibility.  Do you hear that you OTpreneurs out there?  This is a great point for marketing that makes our fees worth paying.


Speaking of Getting Paid:  

Carolyn is finding that there are very few opportunities to be paid from private insurance or Medicaid/Medicare.  If anyone can prove her wrong on this one please email me immediately, I want to talk to you.

Most of Carolyn's business is private pay but as mentioned earlier, the private sector has money.  I've heard that 70% of the nation's wealth is owned by the baby boomers.  Based on my research on marketing to baby boomers (or anyone for that matter) no one wants to relate to being 'handicapped or disabled' people do like to relate to being cool, smart and stylish which I would think would be the way to win the hearts and the business of the baby boomers.   Who Carolyn finds 'have money and want to spend their money wisely' so giving them options from inexpensive to more expensive is a great angle.

Carolyn feels it is important that OTs charge for their services.  Historically OTs have predominantly worked for companies being paid salaries which are reimbursed by health insurance.  OTs don't always have business mindset and often just give their services away (which devalues our services and our profession-my words not Carolyn's)  As the home modification field grows it is important we are paid for the professional services we  render (amen to that.)  Carolyn has hired someone to manage business operations since that isn't her strong suit.



App for Home Mods that Cuts Down on all the Documentation Involved in Home Assessments:

As the field of home modifications grows and opens to OTs there is some worry about OTs not having the knowledge base to be the experts the world needs on home modifications so Carolyn has developed an app which she is now piloting to assist OTs with home evaluations.

The app will:
  • Guide the OT through each room for the evaluations.
  • Give the OT equipment recommendations.
  • Be capable of uploading video and photos for reports.
  • Assist in configuring the data into a workable report to cut down on documentation time.
We needed this one.  Anyone interested in the app can see it at the AOTA Conference in Nashville April 16th-19th Booth #65.  I'll be first in line for this one, Carolyn will have ipads and possibly androids available for OTs to demo the app.

She will also be demonstrating the app on Saturday at the conference from 2:00-3:30 during the 'Mobile Apps for Home Modification Practitioners' along with Marnie Renda who will also be presenting the apps she uses for home mods. 

Please take this survey on Capitalizing on Home Mods for OTs, the results for how other OTs are making money in the home modifications will be sent to you.

Please also plan on meeting with other OT's in the home modifications business on Saturday at 5:30 to network, learn and discuss the secret sauce required to grow a lucrative, successful home modifications business.

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