Tracy (Hammer) Bauer, MSOT ’93, OTR/L

Tracy (Hammer) Bauer, MSOT ’93, OTR/L, knows how important community mobility is to her clients.

Bauer is an ADA eligibility specialist for Metro, the public transit system for the greater St. Louis region. She assesses persons whose disabilities prevent them from using regular, accessible, fixed-route transit services to determine their eligibility for Metro’s Call-A-Ride program. The program provides on-demand, curb-to-curb paratransit service in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Bauer works at Metro’s ADA Office, where applicants meet with her for an interview and assessment.

“We have Call-A-Ride pick them up at home and bring them to us. Within our facility, there is half of a bus and a sidewalk port set up. We also have a working stoplight with a crosswalk and ramps set up so that we can take them through what a typical one-block stop would be like,” Bauer explains. “We put applicants through different tests to see how they do. Our facility is also half a block away from an actual Metro stop, so if we feel it’s necessary, we can take them down there to have them show us if they’re able to access the train or not.”

Bauer has worked at Metro for more than 10 years, and she is able to tell her clients right away whether they qualify for the program. When they do, it can be a pivotal moment in their lives. “I’d have a lot of people cry, give me hugs or just simply say ‘thank you.’ By providing accessible transportation so people can connect to jobs or families, visit the grocery store, get to and from the doctor, our clients are able to interact with the community in a way that they weren’t able to before,” Bauer says.

Providing this type of independence to people is what initially drew Bauer to occupational therapy (OT).

“I originally thought about becoming a nurse like my mother, who worked in a post-surgery care unit. She told me if I was going to go into the medical field, I should just ‘go for it’ and become a doctor,” says Bauer, who left her home state of Maryland to Missouri to attend Washington University in St. Louis. “I started my undergrad courses with that in mind, but then I took organic chemistry. It was challenging, and I thought maybe this wasn’t exactly the route I wanted to go.”

Bauer began talking to a resident assistant in her dormitory who was applying to the Program in Occupational Therapy. The more they talked, the more Bauer’s interest in the field sparked. “OT still had the medical component, but what I found really interesting was being able to help people and foster independence.”

In her senior year, she entered the 3-2 program at WashU, which allows students to finish their bachelor’s and master’s degrees within five and a half years. Bauer remembers her first-year courses in the Program as being rigorous, especially the neuroscience class taught by Dr. Bob Almli.

“The material was rich and dense, so we scrambled to take notes. Everyone had a recorder for his lectures, which were later transcribed by starting and stopping the recording numerous times to make sure we got every detail,” Bauer shares. “It’s not like now where you can just pull up the lecture online. You had to be there. It was the one class nobody wanted to miss because you would be so far behind if you did.”

During the early 90s, evidence-based practice was taking hold of the OT profession. This was reflected in curriculum changes the Program made to put more of an emphasis on clinical research. “It was something that Dr. Baum was implementing, and so our master’s projects were research based. We did have a class where we learned some crafts, but the focus was definitely changing. When I come back to visit the Program now, it is so much more scientifically driven now than when I was student.”

Bauer returned to Maryland to complete her clinical fieldwork experiences at Kennedy Krieger Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, Johns Hopkins University and at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) in their political actions department. Bauer married her husband, Bill, and came back to St. Louis to start her OT career working in skilled nursing facilities. As her family grew, she appreciated the work and home life balance the profession’s flexibility gave her.

“I worked full-time for about four and half years before I had my daughter, Anna. I was able to flex my hours when I returned, working two days a week on a per diem basis. During that time, there were many changes happening in medical insurance in terms of Medicaid and Medicare, and facilities wanted full-time OTs,” says Bauer. “I shifted to a contract agency so I could go back to working a couple days a week. They placed me at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis where I worked for about year before giving birth to my son, Ben. After crunching the numbers, my husband and I decided it would be more feasible if I stayed home with our kids.”

One year later, Bauer received a phone call from Children’s Hospital asking whether she would work one or two weekend days a month. She agreed. “It gave me a chance to keep my skills up without having to work during the week when my husband was. We did that for about ten years until I got a call from the WashU OT Program,” Bauer says. “They were helping Metro start up the Call-A-Ride program and just needed someone to help the full-time OT they had to balance the workload. I kind of ‘tacked’ that onto my weekend schedule. And 10 years later, I’m still at Metro.”

Bauer credits the Program with giving her the training and skill set to help people in her community get to where they want and need to go.

“There will always be OTs in the medical model, but how we approach a client and how we look at their capabilities to foster independence really fits well in community-based practice. I see people from all walks of life, and 100 percent of them just want to be treated with respect and dignity,” Bauer shares. “If you meet them at that level, they are grateful and willing to open up and share with you what their goals are and what is meaningful to them.”

As an Eliot Society donor, Bauer feels it is important to invest in future OT practitioners. “Both my husband and I are WashU grads, and we want to give back so other students can receive the same high level of education we did. My fieldwork sites never had a student from WashU’s OT Program come through their facilities before, and my supervisors were impressed by the knowledge base I had. I think that says a lot about this Program and the direction it’s going in the future,” Bauer said.