top of page

Iona College - Professor Roundtable - Virtual Home Assessments

CSithong-prof head shot2.jpg

Carolyn Sithong

Founder, CEO

Home for Life Design®


Dr. Danielle Mahoney

Assistant Professor

New York-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences

Sithong:  When we first learned about you and your students launching virtual home assessments, we were so excited to learn how this could be done in virtual setting.

Before we get into that great achievement, can you tell us about your Older Adult, Home Mods class and how Home for Life Design fits into your curriculum? 

Mahoney: When I was originally looking for home assessment that our students could practice in order to gain that competence as an entry level occupational therapist, Home for Life Design was the clear choice. In our OT program, students are required to perform certain assessments and I wanted them to feel confident and comfortable performing an assessment in whatever way possible, whether it was virtual or in-person. I had also told my students to offer this home assessment during fieldwork rotations in case there were candidates that needed this service.

Dr. Olson, our Program Chair, was very supportive of it as well.  The solution itself is built into our "Older Adults, Home Mods" class.  So first, the students interview one of what we call our LIRIC members, (Learning In Retirement at Iona College). They do an occupational profile on that person plus an empathy map presentation on them.  The empathy map is to get them knowing what the person is telling them, not what they think the person's telling them.  They're identifying their needs, their goals, and then from there, they do the Aging in Place assignment, which is the Home for Life Design program assessment.  All of that prep work is to make sure that they're going into someone's home with a global view of this person.  After the home assessment, they will write up a report of their experience.  That's where it fits within our curriculum. 

Birth of the Virtual Home Safety Assessment

Sithong: So traditionally, home safety assessments are conducted onsite and in-person.  How did you envision a virtual home safety assessment?  

Mahoney:  It's funny, I actually was a teacher's assistant at Columbia University. They used the Home for Life Design program. I saw how the professor used it and they had performed the assessments on an older neighbor or a grandparent.  And I thought, "That's so cool." As I reviewed all their assignments, I said "That's a really great assessment to keep in mind." And it really didn't trigger in my head until COVID-19 happened that I asked myself, "What about a virtual home assessment?"  And I thought we could use Home for Life Design to try it.  That was the first one that came to my mind. And I looked further into it.  

Sithong:  LIRIC stands for Learning in Retirement at Iona College. This is the group you provided these virtual assessments for, correct?  Can you tell us a little about this community group and how your Iona OT program partners with them? 

Mahoney:  Yes, so they're a group of older adults. They are aged 65 to105 and of all varying abilities.  Some of them are actually former occupational therapists. It's always nice when they volunteer for our projects. Some are nurses, some are scientists, many are doctors, many are lawyers. They're a group of older adults who want to continue learning and they participate in some our class and research projects.  Actually, it was Dr. Olson and our fieldwork coordinator who reached out to LIRIC to see how could we provide service for them.  How can we partner with them? And our program’s relationship with LIRIC just evolved over time so that when I have a project come up, we try to partner with them. I'd much rather students get a real life experience than a case study. Do it (the home assessment) on someone they don't know, that they have to develop a rapport with.


Students sometimes have to be a little uncomfortable and work it out so they're not uncomfortable when they go on field work. They get those nerves out now. And the LIRIC community always comes to the forefront of our mind. They're excited to work with us. They love volunteering, they love being socially engaged with our students. And again, they do get a service, you know, a home assessment could be $300. And here they're getting it from us for free. So it's a great partnership. 

Thinking Outside the Box

Sithong:  The height of 2020 forced a lot of industries, especially healthcare, to shift their strategies and service deliveries.  College campuses too had their challenges of how much can students engage in a new Covid-restricted environment.  That didn't stop the Iona OT Department though did it?

How did the :LIRIC members feel about your virtual home safety project and partnering with your student OTs?

Mahoney: A huge part of our program, like we've said, is that entrepreneurial mindset. And I think that has shown through the faculty through the guidance of Dr. Olson, and then us onto our students.  That we should never really say no to something. 


When we went to an open house for the LIRIC community a few weeks ago to discuss our virtual assessment project, many LIRIC members were coming up to me, "I want to do it but I don't have a camera." Or, "I want to do it but I'm nervous to have someone actually come to my house." Or "I want to do it for my brother who's not a LIRIC member, I think this could really help him." And we never said "no". We can figure out a way.  We will do it in some fashion.  LIRIC members actually told us after the project that the Iona occupational therapy graduate students were the only social interaction they had for a long time during COVID.  They said everything else was cancelled, except for Iona occupational therapy.  We didn't miss a beat. They said, "You know, you guys still engaged with us."  This wasn't the only virtual experience we had with them.  We did do a home assessment but our students were holding virtual Tai Chi and different fall risk educational classes for them as well.  Our program was the one program that kept them socially engaged during the height of COVID-19.

My students don’t hesitate in our program, which is awesome.  They might feel uncomfortable for a second, but they have grown and learned that that comes with becoming an occupational therapist. We need to learn how to adapt to different people's needs.  And that's exactly what they've done with this project. 

Future of Home Safety Assessments

Sithong: That's great. As an OT professor & industry professional, do you think the need for virtual home assessments will increase in the very near future? 

Mahoney:  I think the need for virtual assessments in general is going to go up in the future. People have seen that many things can be done from their home. And just because someone can't get to a facility doesn't mean they should be denied access to performing a certain assessment or gaining certain services. So absolutely I think that there's a huge place for home assessments done virtually within the occupational therapy world.

Sithong:  And your students have already pretty much proven that that can be done right now. That’s what is so great about your position for innovation and problem solving. How does the using the new technology like Home for Life Design help shape or validate your teaching areas within the OT department?  

Mahoney: I think in general; we're always trying to tell our students to try to see things through a different lens if they need to. And so by doing a virtual assessment with video teleconferencing just proves to them that they can do things in different ways, and it can work and be successful. And there's definitely been times where we've tried things and said, "Hmm, that didn't work the way we wanted to, how can we go back and change that?" Or, "how can we make it better in the future?" 


We also get the feedback from the LIRIC members. So they'll tell us what works, they'll tell us what could have been better.  Not just like on the logistic side, but also about our students.  There was a student last year, who kept trying to text his older adult to set up his home assessment.  And he told me, "Dr. Mahoney, I'm not getting any response.  I don't know why he's not responding."  I said, "Well, first off, you're texting an older gentleman, and second, pick up the phone and call him.  You could practice on me, whatever you need to do, but pick up the phone and have a conversation."  And I thought that was a great example of it's not just about the straightforward home assessment.  It's about rapport, developing their therapeutic use of self, and their clinical reasoning when it comes to these types of assignments.  

A Truly Incredible Academic & Industry Achievement

Sithong: So you & your students may not know this Danielle, but you all are true pioneers in this aging in place market.  You all are some of the first people ever to conduct a home assessment in an entirely virtual setting.  You and your students are paving the way for professionals of today to go “How do I do this?” 


How does that make you feel as an OT department and as a professor? 

Mahoney: I think it's incredible. We know that our students are capable of such great things and this just proves it.  It also proves our mentality of don't just say no to things. think of a different way to do it.  Adapt to the needs of your population and figure it out.  And that's the whole idea of entrepreneurship.


But in terms of thinking outside the box, the students in their very first semester of our program learn the difference of managerial thinking and entrepreneurial thinking.  And this is a perfect example of our students morphing into entrepreneurs.  They really have done something special.  Again, I can only come up with the assignment.  But the students all embraced it and were excited about it.


This aging in place assignment has really been amazing, and I think it serves a population of people that don't always get that attention that they might need at that point in their life.  Many times the first time someone gets the attention is when they've had a fall or they've actually had a medical event. In our case, the LIRIC members are healthy older adults who still need help, even though they haven't had a qualifying event.  So hopefully, we can help people be safer and age in place, that's the ultimate goal. 

Sithong: This has been such a great discussion and we can't thank you enough for the feedback today.  We’d like to thank you and Iona for sharing the same vision that we have for solving the challenges of our aging populations and helping to show the OT’s distinct value.  It's just great what you guys are doing and I appreciate it.  


Mahoney: Thank you for creating such an amazing program.  It's incredible and like our students said, it's very user friendly and there's so many positives. The webinars that you make, our students take those verbatim.  It was an amazing find. We are so grateful for your tool. And its really made a difference.  So we really appreciate that. Thank you. 

bottom of page