Occupational Therapist and Clinical Director Gina Fernandez is a pro at multitasking; she has been juggling her three Enable Occupational Therapy clinics during the pandemic while simultaneously being a new mother (her baby was born in mid-April).
As a Registered Occupational Therapist, Gina performs home assessments, falls risk assessments, cognitive assessments, wheelchair assessments, and prescribes exercises and creates treatment programs for all members of the community.
She has worked in both the public and private sectors with adults and children. Gina worked in a rural child development centre in Squamish, as well as various acute care settings throughout the Fraser Health Authority, and with the Early Supported Discharge Team at Richmond Hospital providing education and rehabilitation to adults with strokes and brain injuries.
Gina founded Enable OT in 2014 after leaving her position at the Palliative Care and Oncology units at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. Her position as Palliative Care and Oncology OT was to be eliminated and she was informed she would be working on a regular hospital unit instead.
Aware of gaps in the public health care system, Gina decided to open a private rehabilitation company to provide services to individuals on waitlists and to assist people who received limited services publicly including children, and adults with strokes, brain injuries or Parkinson’s disease.
Her goal was to provide treatment to adults and children in the community in a unique and innovative manner outside of the clinic walls which includes kayaking, soccer, rock climbing, dance, and much more.
Gina says, “We work with clients on physical, cognitive, and emotional skills. However, most individuals become bored with working on these skills inside a clinic setting, and children are often tired of being brought to such therapy sessions. For this reason, we decided to take it outdoors and the children love it! Interestingly enough, these outdoor sessions have the best clinical effectiveness, according to evidence-based research.”
Enable OT’s first location was a shared space with Steveston’s Past Tense Massage Therapy. Gina soon discovered she had a thriving business and it was time to expand. The clinic eventually moved to First Avenue above the Balloon Place, after temporarily sharing a bigger space with former Chatham Speech and Language Services.
The Enable OT team consists of three occupational therapists, four rehabilitation assistants, two lifeguards, and one expressive arts therapist.
Gina grew up in West Richmond and attended Hugh Boyd Secondary. She did not envision returning to her hometown, however, she says, “I am back upon request!”
In 2019, Gina opened satellite locations in Kerrisdale and Port Moody. People had heard about Enable OT and Gina realized there was an opportunity to service these communities so families in these areas did not have to travel to Steveston.
The occupational therapists collaborate with clinicians in the three communities where the clinics are located.
The Kerrisdale office is conveniently paired with a child counsellor’s office. Gina finds it extremely convenient to refer her clients to a neighbouring clinician.
Some clients have special needs such as anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, or other mental health concerns. Gina is on the Registered Autism Service Providers (RASP) list for children.
Children with autism or anxiety can find big groups overwhelming. Basketball camps are an informal way to work on social skills and learn to take turns and share a space. These small groups are for kids as young as five years old to teenagers.
“The most rewarding part of my job is interacting with the clients and watching them grow and progress.” Gina Fernandez
Swim camps are an excellent outlet for kids with sensory and behavioural challenges. The lessons are taught by Enable OT’s lifeguards and are tailored to the way students learn. Children can work towards earning their swimming levels and Bronze Cross lifeguard certification. Unfortunately, this program is temporarily on hold during COVID-19.
Gina discovered a clinic space was available across the street from Port Moody’s Rocky Point Park and thought it was a perfect opportunity to maximize another facet of their occupational therapy services. Enable OT’s kayaking program allows clients to develop their upper body, improve endurance and balance, and also cultivate social skills.
In Steveston, occupational therapy sessions for youth include basketball camps, soccer, golf at West Richmond’s Pitch and Putt, biking, and scavenger hunts. In addition, Enable OT hosts camps to develop fine motor skills such as printing and cutting with scissors.
Often, the talented and skilled rehabilitation assistants see some of the young clients every week, as it may not be necessary to see an OT weekly. Gina is fortunate to have a team of assistants comprised of volunteer firefighters, former collegiate level basketball coaches, artists who own and operate their own cupcake decorating company, and individuals who are fluent in sign language.
“We form connections with every parent, sibling, and grandparent when they visit the clinic. It is gratifying to hear kids say they enjoy coming to see us,” says Gina.
In addition to their work with children, the Enable OT team also works with adults. Many people are not aware that OT’s work with people living with Parkinson’s disease, strokes, or brain injuries. Therapists should have advanced training in rehabilitation techniques related to Parkinson’s disease if they are working with these clients.
These OT sessions may include assessment of physical, social, cognitive, and emotional factors that affect an individual’s functioning, including participation in daily activities, and provision of equipment to aid with independence in mobility and daily tasks, such as meal management, leisure, productivity, and self-care.
Treatment modalities used by the clinicians include, but are not limited to dance, yoga and mindfulness, boxing, and PWR! Exercise.
Gina has completed intensive PWR! Training, allowing her to provide exercise-based treatment to individuals living with Parkinson’s disease. This program is based on the principle of neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change). Research studies have shown that participation in the program is associated with reduced symptoms and improved physical and cognitive functioning.
Parkinson’s patients who participate in dance-based interventions have shown improvements in the areas of emotional well being and cognition, in addition to balance, mobility, and the ability to perform activities of daily living.
Prior to being an OT, Gina was a professional dancer. She is passionate about incorporating music and movement into her therapy sessions. She teaches Bollywood dance for beginners at various dance studios throughout B.C. When she teaches dance in therapy sessions caregivers also enjoy participating.
Partnering with other Steveston businesses is important to Gina. Enable OT hosts basketball camps with neighbouring company Advantage Speech-Language Pathology. Enable OT’s team enjoyed working with Tony Dales when he was operating his kayaking business, and he was instrumental in training the clinicians on water safety skills. Thinking creatively, last year Gina approached Paradigm Shift Martial Arts and now uses their studio to hold dance classes and boxing training for Parkinson’s patients.
Like many businesses, Enable OT had to close its doors at the height of the pandemic. Steveston and Kerrisdale have now reopened (Port Moody remains closed for now) and all of the necessary health guidelines are being followed. Some alterations have had to be made involving social interaction such as the cessation of sharing of materials, however, applying their creative OT skills, the team is finding ways to adapt and deliver their sessions.
Enable Occupational Therapy
12211 First Avenue, Richmond BC V7E 3M3