Stories from the Frontline: Helping Patients Regain Independence One Step At a Time

laurasteenbergLaura Steenberg ’05 was always the Oak Knoll classmate that others could count on. She tended to scraped knees, helped when classmates needed to go to the nurse’s office and lent a listening ear, always with a smile on her face.

It was no surprise, then, when Steenberg — who comes from an extended family where many work in health sciences fields — decided to also dedicate her career to help others.
“I’ve always known that I would be in a career that was other-person directed,” said Steenberg, an Occupational Therapist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, since 2017.

Steenberg works in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Here, she services patients who have had a range of different surgeries – some planned, some traumatic or emergent – and helps them engage in instrumental activities of daily living. Some of these include meal planning, money management, household management, leisure and reintegration into the community.

“As an occupational therapist, I take a holistic approach to working with my patients,” said Steenberg, whose empathic nature, desire to care for others and servant leadership was fostered while at Oak Knoll.

“Together with the patient, we review all of their roles and habits, the surgery they have had, any additional health care concerns, and what is most important for them to return to,” said Steenberg.

Now, however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Steenberg and her colleagues in the therapies – occupational and physical therapies, and speech and language pathology – find themselves in a unique situation.

“Many rehabilitation centers are no longer accepting patients or are only accepting on a limited basis,” explained Steenberg. “We’re now rehabilitating individuals in our acute-care setting, in the hopes of a discharge to home, not to a rehab center.”

In addition to working directly with COVID-19 patients, Steenberg and her department are now the health care workers on the frontlines fulfilling many roles, including training therapists from their outpatient clinics and specialties, including psychiatric occupational therapy, certified hand therapists and women’s health therapists.

“This brings a whole new set of knowledge, resources and training into the acute-care setting and has created wonderful learning opportunities for all,” she said.

While the COVID-19 situation has expanded Steenberg’s professional experiences, it has simultaneously taken away personal ones.

Steenberg and her fiancé, Cameron – a police officer also working on the frontlines – had to postpone their May 2, 2020 wedding.

“This has made it even more important for us to follow the guidelines to keep us both safe and healthy,” said Steenberg, who recently lost her great aunt, Sister Martin Colbert, SSND, to COVID-19 last week in New York City.

Aside from the hustle of rescheduling her wedding to this September, Steenberg is focused and working hard to rehabilitate her patients, many of whom are immunocompromised.

“There is much concern for our patients, concern for our co-workers who have become family and concern for our loved ones at home”, said Steenberg. “But personally, I feel supported in this fight – by my team, my immediate leadership, by my organization and by my loved ones.”

“I was called to be an Occupational Therapist, and feel blessed to serve others every day,” Steenberg said.

Stories from the Frontline is a signature Oak Knoll editorial feature that aims to highlight all of the hardworking alumnae/i of Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child who are out on the frontlines of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. These alumnae/i may be in the medical, law enforcement, and other emergency service fields. Do you know someone we should talk to? Email