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Engaged Research

As part of the Program in Occupational Therapy’s ongoing mission, our faculty engages in innovative research every day and constantly pursues funding for projects that can enhance community health. These research initiatives have a direct impact on people with disabilities, chronic health conditions or those at-risk in their jobs and at home. Below are examples of research projects that lead to real life improvements in community health across the continuum of care.

Heartland Sickle Cell Disease Network

The Child Health and Education Laboratory led by Allison King, MD, PhD, focuses on children with chronic illness, specifically those with sickle cell disease (SCD) or brain tumors. In addition, Dr. King currently directs The Heartland Sickle Cell Disease Network, a partnership with sickle cell disease care providers and community organizations to improve overall care and quality of life of patients with SCD in a four-state region that includes Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. The network is funded by a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

A network collaborative web site is in development to support publicly posted educational materials as well as a secure area for data submission from Heartland Network collaborators. Site visitors will be able to sign up for newsletters, contact local SCD organizations, access webinars and other educational resources from network members, and find providers in their area.

Development of a Self-management Program for Parents with Spinal Cord Injury/Disease

The Development of a Self-management Program for Parents with Spinal Cord Injury/Disease (SCI/D) is managed by Carla Walker, OTD, OTR/L, ATP, a clinical specialist who conducts home visits and other appointments as needed. Faculty member Jessica Dashner, OTD, OTR/L, serves as principal investigator on an education grant funded by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to improve the health, independence and quality of life of parents with spinal cord injury/disease and their families through access to information, self‐management strategies, resources and training.

The program is recruiting participants - parents or prospective parents with SCI/D - needing a variety of services ranging from pregnancy planning, evaluating home, school and community accessibility, and lending resources and adaptive equipment to clients to try before buy. The team partners with a variety of resources such as the independent living center at Paraquad Inc., Through the Looking Glass, physicians and other health-care professionals, community resources and families throughout the process to assist parents with disabilities in reaching their goals.

Fall Protection Resource Website

Falls from heights are the top cause of construction fatalities and account for one-third of on-the-job injury deaths in the industry. When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) changed its residential fall protection requirements, they published a document highlighting pictures of devices for each building stage but without the device names or identifying information to help construction professionals find it. Vicki Kaskutas, OTD, MHS, OTR/L, FAOTA, received a grant from the Center for Construction Research and Training through the National Institute of Occupational Safety to develop a website that demonstrates the fall prevention devices available to protect residential construction workers when working at heights.

Launched in October 2014, the Fall Protection Resource for New Home Construction website ( demonstrates 148 fall prevention devices. It includes conventional methods of fall protection such as guardrails, personal fall arrest systems and safety nets, as well as other equipment including scaffolds, lifts, hole covers and ladder accessories that can improve safety when working at heights. The site has had more than 37,000 page views since the launch and was distributed nationwide by OSHA to its education center, field office and employees with a role in construction as well as to several trade organizations.

Expanding Fitness to Drive

The work of Peggy Barco, OTD, OTR/L, SCDCM, in the Driving and Community Mobility Laboratory focuses on studying medical fitness to drive in various populations including older adults with dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and visual disorders. She works in collaboration with David Carr, MD, and is funded by Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT).

Current research projects include developing a tool and training protocol known as the Record of Driving Errors (RODE) which provides a standardized way to score the on-road performance based driving assessment and developing an evidenced based screen for clinicians to utilize to determine the probability that an individual will pass or fail a road test. Both of these research initiatives are designed to support a more efficient and accurate way to help clinicians address driving competency when various medical conditions arise throughout the lifespan. Equally important will be the focus on helping individuals remain mobile and active in the community after driving cession to maintain their quality of life.

Home Hazard Removal Program

The Home Hazard Removal Program (HARP), funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to implement an effective home-modification intervention to prevent falls through local Area Agencies on Aging. The principal investigator, Susy Stark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, used community-engaged research approaches to receive input from both older adults and service providers in order to adapt an existing program that was successfully implemented in Australia to work within the aging services network in the United States. The adapted program is now undergoing pilot testing with older adults in the St. Louis Area.

The Performance, Environment and Participation Laboratory team works with the St. Louis and Mid-East Area Agency on Aging to identify older adults at risk for falling that may be interested in testing the adapted program. HARP provides older adults with a home hazard evaluation and home modifications to reduce fall risk in the home by an occupational therapist. Home modifications are provided through grant funding and local organizations that provide adaptive equipment, home repairs and modifications for accessibility.

We actively look for opportunities to partner with community organizations.

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