By Sarah Barnett
Seven students from the Master of Occupational Therapy program at UTMB represented the state of Texas at the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Capitol Hill Day in September.
Jennifer Alexandris, Sarah Barnett, Emily Del Guidice, Meeghan Keng, Kara Kincaid, Jennifer Padilla and Laretta Robinson joined over 500 occupational therapy practitioners, students and faculty at the Capitol building to speak to members of Congress about key legislative issues affecting occupational therapy practitioners and beneficiaries. The UTMB students were the only participants from Texas, where over 11,000 licensed occupational therapists live and work.
Kara Kincaid, AOTA representative for the Student Occupational Therapy Association, spearheaded the effort.
“Coordinating this student initiative did more for me than providing an opportunity to advocate for occupational therapy—it also allowed me to develop leadership skills,” said Kincaid.
The first-time student advocates independently funded, organized and executed their visit, which included face-to-face meetings with advisors of Senator John Cornyn, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Representative Dr. Ron Paul.
Discussed were occupational therapy’s legislative priorities including eliminating the Medicare Outpatient Therapy Cap, which limits Medicare recipients to $1880 of occupational therapy each fiscal year. Other topics included expanding occupational therapy’s role in the evaluation process for home health care providers and adding occupational therapists to the federal definition of behavioral and mental health professionals.
“The legislative aides were very receptive to the concerns that we brought to them,” said Laretta Robinson. “Their willingness to hear how legislative policies impact residents of Galveston County compelled me to realize our congressmen really are available to their constituents.”
The student advocates collaborated with AOTA staff and UTMB faculty members to prepare agendas that both promoted occupational therapy and provided essential advocacy experience. “I wanted to gain experience in advocating for my profession and increase awareness of what occupational therapy is” said Jennifer Alexandris.
Together, the students organized their agenda into talking points that included a clear definition of occupational therapy, highlights of the impact of the legislative issues and personal stories from the Galveston community regarding health care concerns.
After a full day of meetings with congressional staff members, students reflected on the success of their efforts. “My experience representing occupational therapy during Capitol Hill Day was phenomenal,” said Jennifer Padilla. “I will definitely attend again and represent my future profession.”
AOTA closely monitors legislative issues at the state and federal levels, encouraging all members to get involved through annual events such as Capitol Hill Day. “Wendy Welch Jones, member of the Board of Directors of the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee, said it best,” stated Meeghan Keng. “You have car insurance, you have health insurance. Political advocacy is your job insurance.”
The OT students hope support for advocacy efforts increases and future classes continue to represent UTMB and Texas at local and national events. “I encourage OT practitioners and students to participate in Capitol Hill Day in subsequent years,” said Jennifer Padilla.