An interview with Heather Simpson Occupational Therapist from the UF Health Rehab-Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases on September 5, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Heather Simpson graduated with a B.S. in Exercise and Sport Science in 2007 and her Master’s in Occupational Therapy (OT) in 2009, both from the University of Florida. She then went on to obtain a post-professional clinical doctorate from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in 2017.
Heather current serves as an occupational therapist at the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health in Gainesville, Florida, where she has been since 2011. In 2020, Heather became a co-coordinator at the Parkinson’s Center of Excellence for the Institute focusing on PWP and care partner outreach, with a focus on the underrepresented populations.
Heather is a certified LSVT BIG® clinician as well as PWR!Moves® but has extensive training in the non-motor symptoms of PD including mood, cognition, vision and sleep in which she brings to her everyday practice with her work with those living with PD.
Can you tell me more about your advocacy?
I serve as the UF Health Fixel Institute Parkinson’s Center of Excellence co-coordinator. Within that role, I have been allotted an opportunity to participate in community outreach and service to people with Parkinson’s and their care partners. This advocacy and outreach have recently been on focused on helping increase awareness of PD symptoms in the underserved populations as well as increasing the awareness of how rehabilitation therapy (such as OT) can be helpful in the palliative approach of PD.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
My passion is to help others understand their symptoms, manage their symptoms, and receive the care that they need to live a full and happy life, no matter what stage of PD they might be in.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when seeing your advocacy?
We have two goals with our advocacy, and that includes:
1) increasing awareness of lesser-known PD symptoms and
2) improving access to care.
What type of training and how long are the programs?
In 2022, we hosted 3 programs specifically aimed at outreach to the African American community in Alachua County. These programs were launched through the Power in Knowing program.
For more information please see: https://movementdisorders.ufhealth.org/2022/05/31/power-in-knowing-program-educates-the-community/
What effect can your advocacy have on an individual with Parkinson’s?
Through this Power in Knowing activity, it has allowed for increased awareness in the African American community, as well as increased access to care for some that did not have the support before.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?
Would love to see an increase in community outreach to the underserved community while breaking the stigma of PD. Would love to see more community engagement with PD groups to local communities to educate physicians, adults, care partners and family members about the various symptoms of PD and how to address the symptoms early.
What events do you participate in?
UF Health participates in national advocacy and training with various Parkinson’s organization.
How does your advocacy also assist caregivers?
It is important for care partners and family members to understand and recognize symptoms of PD that are not as well-known, such as posture changes or blood pressure issues. Advocacy and outreach is aimed at helping adults who might have the needs themselves, but also to help care partners and community members be able to better help their loved ones.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
How can others also become advocates for awareness?
Get plugged in with any of the Parkinson’s organizations around the county. Join in on events, fundraising and continuing education courses to stay up to date on how to get involved.
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
Helping the community recognize the symptoms of PD and increase ease for accessing appropriate care is important in the journey to fight PD.