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3/2/24- ConnOTA Virtual Spring Conference
Saturday, March 02, 2024, 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM EDT
Category: Events

2024 ConnOTA Virtual Annual Conference
Saturday, March 2, 2024
Held Virtually Via Zoom
Earn Up to 6.5 CEUs!



Schedule of Events


Cancellations must be received by email by March 1, 2024, to receive a refund, minus a $20 admin fee.  No refunds will be made after this date.


Members: $100                             

Non-members: $120 

Student Members: $25               

Student Non-members: $50



Session Descriptions

Keynote Speaker: TBA


Advocacy Chat: Enhancing Occupational Therapy Practice through Professional Advocacy

Joyce E. Rioux, EdD, OTR/L, SCSS, FAOTA



Dr. Rioux is a consultant for the Capitol Region Education Council. At the local level, she is the ConnOTA chair of government affairs and is an advocate for promoting and protecting the full scope of occupational therapy practice with a primary concentration in schools. At the national level, Dr. Rioux dispatcher of the AOTA Commission on Continuing Competence and Professional Development and in this role actively monitored trends in occupational therapy practice. She has actively contributed to the development and revision of AOTA Official Documents and worked on task forces to form recommendations to the AOTA Board and Representative Assembly. Task forces included one on community violence and another focused on the impact of the post Dobbs decision on occupational therapy practice. Dr. Rioux presents at local, state, and national conferences on topics specific to school therapy practice and professional development.


Learning Objectives:

After this course, participants will be able to:

  1. Articulate an understanding of how your professional organizations support your role as an occupational therapy practitioner.
  2. Understand what you can do as an occupational therapy practitioner to influence positive change.
  3. Uncover ways to build your professional advocacy competence.



This workshop will explore the vital role that professional organizations play in supporting occupational therapy practitioners. Understanding the structure, resources, and opportunities provided by these organizations is crucial for enhancing your effectiveness in the field. We will delve into the structure of AOTA and ConnOTA, examine opportunities for member input, and raise awareness of volunteerism. Occupational therapy practitioners have the power to drive positive change within their communities and the broader healthcare landscape. We will discuss the importance of staying informed about emerging trends and technologies, advocating for client-centered care, and fostering a mindset of continuous competence within your practice. We will also address the importance of advocating for policy changes that advance the profession and improve outcomes for clients. By the end of this section, you will have practical tools and insights to become a more confident and effective advocate for occupational therapy.

Session 1A

Exploring the Impact of an Academic/Community Partnership in Senior Housing

Nicole Fidanza, OTD, OTR/L

Clinical Assistant Professor & Program Director, E-OTD

Quinnipiac University


Annie Samson, OTS

Quinnipiac University E-OTD Class of 2024



Dr. Fidanza is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy and Director of the Entry-level OTD Program at Quinnipiac University. Her teaching focuses on gerontology, neurorehabilitation, occupation and health, and professionalism. Her practice focuses on older adult clients across the continuum of rehabilitative care. Her current scholarship is focused on the connection between social participation, frailty, and well-being amongst community-dwelling older adults. In 2019, she developed 'Opportunity to Thrive: The Fidanza Method to Enrich Older Adult Social Health' for The Towers at Tower Lane. This program addresses frailty via secondary prevention; it is a part of The Towers’ Proactive Partner Model, which places the resident at the center of services designed to meet their needs at no cost.        


Jesse Wescott serves as the Vice President at The Towers and since 2018 has helped lead organizational change and innovation in both the physical plant and psycho-social areas. Jesse directly oversees the front desk, housekeeping, maintenance, apartment renovation and food services departments, while leading the construction projects throughout the campus. Through the amazing partnership with QU, The Towers has been able to usher in programs like the proactive partner model, health fairs, car-Fit programs, ergonomics studies and many student run programs and interventions that have been truly transformative in the lives of the seniors who reside with the community.

Learning Objectives:

  1. List the benefits of academic/community partnership from various perspectives: faculty, student, site administrator.
  2. Understand the steps to form an academic/community partnership.
  3. Highlight successful elements of the academic/community partnership that audience members can replicate.


The Towers at Tower Lane (The Towers) is an affordable senior housing facility in New Haven, home to over 300 adults ages 62 and older. Overall, The Towers community serves the forgotten middle- and low-income senior populations. Looking for community partners to help transform its models of care, The Towers connected with Quinnipiac University Occupational Therapy in 2018. Since then, this partnership has flourished due to the time and energy invested by both parties. A hallmark of the partnership is The Towers’ Proactive Partner Model, which includes 'Opportunity to Thrive: The Fidanza Method to Enrich Older Adult Social Health.’ This program addresses new resident frailty via secondary prevention and has been running for almost 3 years. Data shows this program is effective in helping residents age in place while also fostering OT referrals onsite.

The Towers has evolved much of its programming and service ideals through this partnership; they feel linking academia to older adult housing is vital to their success. Effective elements of this partnership include:

  • One point of contact (professor) that keeps lines of communication open.
  • The start and wrap up of each student cohort; these reports are invaluable to administrators as it gives the facts and analysis in a central place that can be read later and/or analyzed later.
  • Credibility of reporting based on the University’s reputation.
  • Ability to up-scale the partnership and add other facets; ours is continually growing and now includes School of Health Sciences and University-level initiatives.
  • The infusion of forward-thinking occupational therapy ideas and youthful academic energy into the community.

This presentation will outline the history of the partnership while setting the stage for audience members in academic roles to establish their own partnerships with possible partners. Perspectives from multiple stakeholders- QU OT faculty, QU OT student, and The Towers and Tower Lane’s administration- will be offered to highlight the benefits of this partnership and suggestions for success.

Session 1B

Baby & Me…& OT: How Occupational Therapy Practitioners Are Uniquely Suited To Facilitate Infant & Caregiver Classes




Amy Nasshan has worked as an occupational therapist with infants, toddlers, and their families since 2013 in six different states from coast to coast. She is currently the owner of Nesting Moments LLC providing community-based perinatal occupational therapy services. She is a Certified Educator of Infant Massage, Prenatal/Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist, and Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner, with advanced training in pediatric taping. She has also been certified through Postpartum Support International in perinatal mental health. She has extensive experience in feeding therapy and is certified in sensory integration. She has presented on various topics about infant & toddler development locally & statewide, and she served on the board of the Utah Occupational Therapy Association from 2014-2016. Her greatest education, experience, and inspiration has been as a mother to two incredible children.


Learning Objectives:

After this course, participants will be able to:

  1. To discuss the importance of community-based support for growing families in the perinatal stage of life, especially within the state of Connecticut
  2. To examine how occupational therapy practitioners are uniquely suited to address the needs of this population through occupation-based activities and topics
  3. To provide a template for infant & caregiver classes based on a program that has operated for a year in Southington, Connecticut
  4. To experience a simulated portion of an infant & caregiver class through hands-on learning


As researchers gather more data on the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on growing families, they are hypothesizing that restrictions of the past four years may have been particularly damaging to maternal mental health, as well as infant development, both biologically through changes in the body and brain as well as social-emotionally through limitations within systems and economic hardships (Kokkinaki & Hatzidaki, 2022). In 2023, the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health examined the state of maternal mental health through a nationwide and state-specific report card to study availability and accessibility to perinatal mental health services. The United States, as a whole, scored a D. Connecticut scored an even lower grade, an F (The Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health, 2023). The very limited services that are available in Connecticut are inaccessible to those in local communities who need them the most. The purpose of this presentation is to emphasize and explore the importance of supporting growing families during the perinatal stage of life through meaningful activities such as feeding, nurturing touch, and play. Unlike other “baby and me” classes, the programs discussed in this presentation aim to address the needs of not only the infants but also the primary caregivers through co-regulation strategies, techniques for improved recovery from birth, and peer-to-peer support. Because occupational therapy practitioners are uniquely trained to examine personal factors and skills, occupational requirements and adaptations, and a family’s environment and context, they are ideal leaders of infant and caregiver groups as they support family members transitioning into new roles and routines. Preliminary survey results show that class participants highly value a qualified health professional at the helm of these classes, and it is time for occupational therapy practitioners to establish themselves as essential and qualified professionals to support families in the perinatal stage.



Kokkinaki, T., & Hatzidaki, E. (2022). Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions: Factors that may affect perinatal maternal mental health and implications for infant development. Frontiers in Pediatrics10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2022.846627

The Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health. (2023, May). Inaugural Maternal Mental Health State Report Card (2023). https://www.2020mom.org/state-report-cards

Session 1C

Low Vision Services in CT... is it the best kept secret?

Michele Tarantino OTD, MPH, OTR/L, CLVT

Sarah Hannon OTD, OTR/L


Michele Tarantino has been an occupational therapist for more than 30 years.  Michele is currently working full-time as an educator and fieldwork coordinator at Quinnipiac University.  Michele’s passion is improving the lives of those with low vision.   In addition to academia, Dr. Tarantino works in homecare, owns a small business to provide low vision services, and has worked not only in homecare, but also out-patient, assisted living facility, skilled nursing and in acute rehab with spinal cord injuries.   When not at work Michele volunteers with the Jaycees and the Lions Club.  She is a board member of the BAWA Health Initiative-an organization that built a health clinic in Cameroon, Africa.

Sarah Hannon is a recent Quinnipiac University graduate who completed her capstone in low vision and assisted in the development of the resource website. 

Learning Objectives:

  1. Participants will understand how vision loss impacts function and why it is important for those with low vision to have access to resources.
  2. Participants will learn to navigate the low vision resource website to find pertinent information.
  3. Participants will discuss the results of Quinnipiac University Capstone research to determine the need for intervention for clients with low vision.


After working more than 20 years in the low vision rehabilitation field, I have found that those with vision loss are unaware of services available to them.  Those living with vision loss are told by their eye doctor that “there is nothing more that can be done”, leaving them feeling loss and hopelessness.  There are some solutions and resources in Connecticut, but it appears that providers and patients alike are unaware of what is available. 

I have mentored master’s-level and doctoral-level capstones with low vision focus.  This presentation will present the findings of the research including why those living with vision-loss abandon their magnifiers, who the doctor’s offices refer to, and client understanding of CT resources as well as how long it took to be referred.  The determination was that some type of intervention must be implemented to educate everyone in Connecticut about low vision resources.

A new website was created to meet the need of educating people with low vision, family/caregivers, and providers about available resources in Connecticut.  Quinnipiac Student Sarah Hannon completed her capstone with the Lions Low Vision Program to survey consumers as well as interviewed providers around the state.  Results were put together on the InvoLV CT website to help guide those with vision-needs.  The website and resources will be discussed with the participants as well as plans for future intervention.

Session 2A

Workplace Trauma: Fostering a Culture of Well-Being

Michael Urban, OTD, MBA, MS, OTR/L 


Michael Urban, OTD, MBA, MS, OTR/L, has worked in a variety of clinical, academic, and administrative settings. Owning his own private consulting business filing gaps for clients while providing holistic care, he has mentored new and seasoned individuals in and outside the field of OT. His area of specialty has been in leadership mentorship and development to address the business needs of professionals to address difficulty situations while promoting a safe and psychologically safe environment to drive productive, strategic plans, and growth in services while adhering to budgets.


Learning Objectives:

1. 1. Identify key types of leadership behaviors that contribute to workplace trauma.

2. Explain the impact of workplace trauma on organizational culture and productivity.

3. Describe methods to move towards an inclusive culture to drive resilience, well-being and psychological trust.

4. Understand the role and responsibility of leadership/administrations in recognizing and addressing workplace trauma.



In a modern world with constant information, it is easy to see the impacts of violence through social media and news outlets often attributed to trauma exposure, but leaders need to have the emotional intelligence to be aware of their own behaviors which can be creating a toxic work culture. This phenomenon has been growing and it is estimated that nearly 50% of US workers have been exposed to a toxic leader who has inflicted trauma on them. A percentage of these individuals due to repeated traumas, go on to develop a variety of mental health conditions including PTSD. Through this short course, participants will be exposed to the common types of leadership trauma, the impacts and open to discussion to address them to promote a culture of psychological well-being where employees feel comfortable to speak up. Often due to the authoritative structures in place, employees fear speaking out and companies fear to acknowledge employee complaints against management due to the conflicting power structures. These dynamics when left uncheck go against DEI and best practices in workplace standards leading to lower levels of productivity, higher rates of burnout and poor culture throughout the organization which post-covid has accelerated in the healthcare setting, most notably occupational therapy where the current AOTA workplace survey notes an increase of burnout and young practitioners who are looking to leave the profession. Dr. Urban has a history of working with Veterans and children with trauma exposure which he expanded into workplace trauma after an increased need in mentorship requests with successful outcomes for which case studies will be utilized to reinforce learning.

Session 2B

Biopsychosocial Gender Affirming Pelvic Floor Therapy in an Integrated Care Model


Megan Brennick, MS, OTR/L, CLT-LANA, CBS

Carla W. Schnitzlein, DO

Sarah Gromko, MS, CCC-SLP

Whit Ryan, PsyD



Megan (she/her) is an occupational therapist practicing in the hospital outpatient setting primarily within the pelvic health specialty. She has particular passion for working with the perinatal and gender expansive populations, and has recently presented at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Scientific Symposium on a multidisciplinary team on the topic of integrated healthcare. Other certifications include national board certification in lymphedema management, breast cancer rehabilitation, and breast/chestfeeding specialization. Megan is also the site director at her North Haven-based clinic, overseeing occupational, physical, and speech therapists.


Learning Objectives


  1. Provide at least one answer to the question, “what can it mean for our patients (and ourselves) when we truly collaborate on providing care?”
  2. Identify services skilled occupational therapy, pelvic health and voice treatment can provide in the care of transgender, non-binary, and gender expansive individuals.
  3. Name at least one method of decreasing barriers to care within professional domains.
  4. Engage with curiosity about the nature of collaborative, holistic support of individuals across all gender presentations.



“Integrated health care” is a term that has grown in popularity, in the literature, and in medical-model language. This multi-disciplinary group composed of psychiatry, psychology, occupational therapy (OT), and speech therapy (ST) practitioners explores what an integrated approach can mean for transgender, non-binary, and gender expansive (TNBGE) individuals. Too often, integrated care takes the form of placing referrals and hoping for the best, leaving interdisciplinary services poorly understood and underutilized. In our model, we use multicultural, person-first approaches and emphasize individual needs and close collaboration between professionals, our patients, and their ecological systems. We have begun collectively interrogating what the term can mean outside a lens of pathology; rather within a desire for understanding a human system. In this presentation, we ask a deceptively simple question, “what can it mean for our patients (and ourselves) when we truly collaborate on providing care?”

Rehabilitative service professionals can work with TNBGE patients towards individualized goals as diverse as non-surgical body modification (social transitioning), minimization of vocal distress, recovery after gender affirming surgeries (ADL independence, social integration) to optimize quality of life. Psychology and psychiatry work in concert to provide non-stigmatizing psychopharmalogical and mental health support throughout our patients’ journeys. We contemplate best methods for incorporating rehabilitative services, specifically occupational therapy and pelvic health while dismantling harmful hierarchies among care providers in light of benefits and insight gained from collaborative, integrated biopsychosocial health care.

Session 2C

School Administrators’ Perceptions of OT’s Role in General Education Initiatives

Kelly E. Yagud OTD, OTR/L

Karen E. Majeski OTD, OTR/L



Dr. Stefanie Seanor is an assistant professor in the Graduate Program in Occupational Therapy at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. She has shared expertise in childhood occupations during 20 years as a pediatric clinician in private practice and in secondary and transitional public school programs. She attributes her diverse community initiatives to innovative and successful interdisciplinary collaboration. Research and scholarship interests include 1) alignment of educator and practitioner values and priorities in the field of pediatric mental health; 2) health care practitioner perspective, readiness, and effective engagement in varying contextual environments; and 3) educational leadership and the role of the occupational therapist.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Gain greater understanding of the current educational legislation which describes an expanded role for school-based occupational therapy practitioners.
  2. Examine recent research describing OT’s role in schools through the perceptions of teachers and OTs.
  3. Appraise this current research study’s themes to gain insight into Connecticut school administrators’ perceptions of occupational therapy’s role in general education initiatives.
  4. Analyze the study’s discussion points to evaluate possible next steps for OT’s role in schools.



This presentation will highlight how current educational legislation through the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 outlines an expanded role for school-based occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs) as specialized instructional support personnel in general education. It will review multiple research studies which show that OTPs have continued to be viewed as related service professionals under special education due to barriers of high caseloads and decreased administrative support. The presentation will discuss this current research study conducted in Connecticut which sought to understand school administrators’ perceptions of occupational therapy’s role in general education initiatives. The presentation will discuss at length the study’s findings and the implications for OT practice in the educational setting moving forward. 

Session 3A

Updates in Non-Traditional Fieldwork

Michele Tarantino OTD, MPH, OTR/L, CLVT

Learning Objectives:

  1. Participants will understand the definition of non-traditional fieldwork as well as the need to explore creative fieldwork.
  2. Participants will identify the benefits and challenges of non-traditional fieldwork.
  3. Participants will learn about existing non-traditional fieldwork programs through Quinnipiac University and discuss the results of capstone research


A non-traditional setting can be defined as any setting where an occupational therapy practitioner does not typically perform services. Students must use their clinical reasoning with the help of a typically off-site occupational therapist to understand and define the occupational needs of the population they are working with. In a non-traditional setting, students have the opportunity to establish the role of OT in a new population and explain the benefits of OT services.

The initial push towards non-traditional fieldwork came from the lack of traditional occupational therapy sites, as well as moving away from the medical model. In 2019, the American Occupational Therapy Association conducted a workforce and salary survey to identify where in the field occupational therapists were most populated (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2020). The study showed that 1.6% of workers disclosed working in a community or emerging practice setting as their primary work site (AOTA, 2020). Quinnipiac University doctoral occupational therapy students have successfully completed non-traditional fieldwork as an integral part of their program.  Examples are annual sensory-friendly nights at Mystic Aquarium and teaching work-skills at a soup kitchen. 

This presentation will discuss the definition and history of non-traditional/role emerging fieldwork.  It will give an overview of the challenges and benefits of this type of fieldwork.  A current capstone student who completed her non-traditional fieldwork is working on her doctoral capstone project this semester (which explores the perceived benefits of non-traditional fieldwork on the personal and professional skills of doctoral occupational therapy students) will share literature review results and comments from students. This short course will foster discussion about this subject and the future of fieldwork. 


Session 3B

Functional Treatment Approaches to Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Kaitlyn D. Ellis OTR/L

CrossFit Level 1 Trainer

POP Up Pro

Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach


Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify risk factors that contribute to prolapse.
  2. Describe prolapse evaluation techniques.
  3. Identify occupation-based treatment approaches that are unique to each client
  4. Feel confident how you as an occupational therapist can treat pelvic organ prolapse.


This presentation aims to illuminate the crucial role occupational therapists play in addressing Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP), focusing on functional treatment approaches that encompass both physical and mental aspects of care. By examining the interplay between function, ADL’s, and exercise progressions, occupational therapists can contribute significantly to improving the overall well-being of individuals experiencing POP.

Session 3C

Occupational Therapists' Perceptions of Pediatric Mental Health Treatment Preparedness and Confidence

  Stefanie Seanor, EdD, MBA, OTR/L

  Learning Objectives:

  1.  Discuss occupational therapists' perceptions of confidence and competence relating to the provision of pediatric mental health treatment.
  2. Examine best practices in OT education and ongoing training initiatives in the areas of      pediatric mental health assessment and intervention.
  3. Identify benefits and potential barriers to the inclusion of OTs on school-based mental health and wellness teams.
  4. Explore interprofessional collaboration and the occupational therapists' potential as expert contributors on pediatric mental health and wellness teams.


Occupational therapy practitioners support individuals’ successful and independent completion of daily tasks and participation in meaningful activities. They offer evidence-based interventions to assist adults and children in minimizing barriers to learning and to promote positive behavior and social participation. Within the field of pediatrics, occupational therapists evaluate, assess, create treatment plans, and provide interventions for children diagnosed with a variety of disorders and conditions. Demand for this role has increased due to a rise in prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and other mental health disorders in children and adolescents. In addition, recent societal changes including disasters, crises, and local or widespread emergencies are contributing to pediatric mental health conditions. As a result, occupational therapists must remain educated and informed with the most current data and updated information on mental health within the community and school settings in order to provide evidence-based interventions and participate in collaborative care.

The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to explore school-based occupational therapists’ perceptions of their preparedness and confidence to offer pediatric mental health treatment.  Within the limited information uncovered as part of a literature review, discrepancies existed between: (a) university curricula, goals, and expectations, (b) fieldwork requirements and clinical supervisors’ expectations, (c) job descriptions within pediatric and school-based settings, and (d) occupational therapists’ perceptions of their own mental health treatment preparedness and confidence. This study used a qualitative methodology of semistructured interviews to elicit responses from occupational therapists regarding their own experiences and perceptions relating to training and preparedness in the field of pediatric mental health.

The findings from this study have significant implications for students as well as their educators and employers. The results uncovered the need for alignment in academic and clinical settings, development of competencies, and promotion of occupational therapists as essential members of mental-health and wellness support teams. These suggested changes will ensure occupational therapists have the professional knowledge and confidence needed to carry out the specific therapeutic program expectations within the field of pediatric mental health.

Seanor, S., McCraney, M. M., Tobin, P., & Panesar-Aguilar, S. (2022). Pediatric Mental Health Treatment and Confidence through the Lens of the School Based Occupational Therapist’s Role. Global Research in Higher Education, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.22158/grhe.v5n1p1

Session 3D

Oral Health is Overall Health: WHY Occupational Therapy Practitioners Can Aid in the Prevention of Pneumonia

  Susanne Giannitti OTR/L


Susanne Vastano Giannitti OTR/L has a long history of working in sub-acute, long-term care, and home health settings since 1977. She has also taught older adults labs and courses at local universities. She is currently the facilitator for ConnOTA’s Community of Practice Perspectives in Aging, mentors new therapists, works per diem, and promotes occupational therapy when or where ever she has the opportunity to do so!

  Learning Objectives:

  1. The participant will recognize the association of oral hygiene and how it is crucial to overall health.
  2. The participant will be able to identify five conditions that have been associated with poor oral health.
  3. The participant will be able to adapt methods for good oral health for those with physical challenges as well as cognitive to aid in the prevention of disease such as pneumonia.


Pneumonia is a leading cause of hospitalization and death among older adults (Osman et al 2021). When a mouth has poor oral hygiene, bacteria can easily slip down the respiratory tract and start pneumonia. Did you also know that poor oral health can be a window to detecting and complicating the following conditions: diabetes type 2, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, and osteoporosis? (Medscape Nov. 29, 2023). Most strikingly for occupational therapy practitioners and the populations we serve, research is finding neurological implications of poor oral health: stroke, cognitive decline, and dementia (Vas Health Risk Manag 2019, J Am Geriatrics Soc 2022).

             As clinicians and with the support of Self Care GG code (CMS) item “Oral Hygiene” we can have an even greater impact on the health of our clients. Through patient and family education, adaptations for physical challenges, and cognitive approaches for those persons with dementia, we as occupational therapy practitioners can have a positive impact on the oral health wellness of our clients.

             This hour-long presentation will bring forth the evidence for good oral care and the multi-faceted role occupational therapy can play in achieving this and literally save lives (Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology 2021).