Christine Achenbach, Academic Fieldwork Coordinator, with PA Senator Jake Corman.
On Tuesday, June 9, I had the privilege of attending a fundraiser on behalf of the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association (POTA). Malady and Wooten, the law office that provides POTA’s lobbying efforts, hosted a reception/fundraiser for state Senate majority leader Jake Corman. I had never been to such an event and was excited to step into this opportunity to advocate for occupational therapy.
It is important for occupational therapy practitioners to be involved for the future of the profession at large and also our individual jobs. I accepted the invitation from Kerri Golden, coordinator of the POTA legislative committee. I stepped out of my comfort zone, and like many people trying something new, I was a bit apprehensive! Kerri Golden gave me some pointers – mainly that legislators’ time is precious and I would have only a few minutes with Senator Corman. I had to be ready to provide a summary that would adequately convey what my OT and OTA colleagues wanted him to know. Although there is no current legislation on the table that directly impacts OT, concerned consumers and providers are urging state legislators to improve how Pennsylvanians with autism might be better served as they transition from pediatric services to adulthood at age 21.
As I networked with similar constituents at the reception, it struck me that we were all there to educate Senator Corman and his staff about the issues that are important to us and the people we represent. I met a pharmacist whose role in the company where he worked very much reflected knowledge of policy and third-party reimbursement for medications. I met an administrator for a human services company who was very interested in making sure that the services his company provides to children and adults with intellectual developmental delay and autism were secured in any future state legislation.
I saw the senator working the room and realized I was “next” in line. He shook my hand confidently and warmly asked my name. I thanked him for his hard work and shared that although my name tag showed I worked at Elizabethtown College, I was there representing the 9000+ occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants in the state. I acknowledged that while his current project is focusing on streamlining state education retirement benefits, I was hopeful that when the opportunity came up to evaluate services for adults with autism in the state, he would consider keeping occupational therapy in the approved services to maximize our clients’ independence. My few minutes of face time were over and he thanked me for coming.
Over the past 14 years as fieldwork coordinator at Elizabethtown College, I have grown to discover that two important keys to affecting change are education and communication. As Senator Corman spoke to the group at the reception, he alluded to this same life lesson. When he was a freshman legislator, he was eager to get bills introduced and moved through the process so that he could help people, complete the job he was elected to do by his constituents, and fulfill his career aspirations. But as he gained experience in his role as a senator, he learned that by taking the time to work with people and communicating with them in the spirit of collaboration, they could work together to make sure the legislation had a greater chance of moving through and meeting a greater diversity of needs.
So what can each of us do?!? Meeting personally with a legislator may not be feasible for everyone. However, communicating with our legislators is as easy as sending an email. Do you know if your state and federal legislators even know what occupational therapy is? Or that it should be a part of home health, rehabilitation, behavioral health, forensic settings, education and so many other areas? Take a moment and search for your state legislators and your federal legislators. Then send them an informational email sharing who you are and what you would like them to do as your voice in policy-making. If you need extra assistance or information with advocacy efforts, the American Occupational Therapy Association’s advocacy & policy pages have some wonderful tools and resources, too. Let’s work together to make the change in the world we’d like to see and to model it for our children so the next generation can do it even better!