Chris Eidson, MS, OTR/L, took time out of his schedule as a board member for government affairs at the Alabama Occupational Therapy Association and assistant professor and academic coordinator of fieldwork education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to speak with ADVANCE about the current legislative efforts that are affecting occupational therapists in the state.
'Building & Maintaining Relationships'
ALOTA is active in monitoring legislation every year for issues that could potentially affect occupational therapy practitioners and the health care consumers of the state. But it is more than just that, Eidson noted.
"We try to work to advocate to our legislators in times where there are not overt issues too, to build relationships so that they can better understand what we do," he explained. "I have found our state government to be highly receptive to occupational therapists-they see us as an important and necessary profession that helps improve quality of life for Alabamians."
However, legislators are also extremely busy people who have to make important decisions on a wide range of issues, acknowledged Eidson.
"Because of that, it is important for us to be proactive in building and maintaining relationships," he said.
Collaborating with Other Organizations
On a related note, ALOTA wants to work collaboratively with other professions that have an interest that would potentially overlap in government affairs.
"Working with other professional organizations and showing a willingness to collaborate goes a long way in establishing credibility for our profession in the eyes of our government," stated Eidson.
As far as specific issues, this past legislative cycle ALOTA collaborated with the Alabama Physical Therapy Association and their licensing board to find mutually agreeable language for changes in their practice act, which was in need of revision.
"It had been unchanged since the 1970s. It needed to be updated and they were also seeking limited direct access. They were successful on both counts, and they involved us in discussion early on in their process," Eidson explained.
ALOTA, in turn, worked with AOTA, who looked at language that had worked in other states, which ALOTA then suggested back to the Alabama Physical Therapy Association.
ALOTA also supported a bill that provides infrastructure for provision of services for individuals with autism. The Cam Ward bill, which is named after the bill's sponsor, essentially establishes mechanisms for networking service providers in the state.
Eidson noted that the association actually had a relatively slow legislative session as far as issues that it was advocating.
It's 'Good Business'
"The implications of working with the physical therapists as we did are great-while we fully understand that there will be issues, at times, that we differ on, we have more issues upon which we will agree. Making sure that we work well together helps set a positive tone for when we need to do similar sorts of things (for example, open our practice act). It's just good business," he said.
Eidson believes the physical therapy bill has been in the works for a while, but the session before last was the first time it had been formally introduced as a bill.
As far as accomplishments go, Eidson views the relationships that ALOTA has been developing as a success.
"To effectively lobby, and do it really well, I believe you have to have someone committed to that almost fulltime. Since we are an all-volunteer organization, we have hired a lobbyist. We would not be able to do what we do without him," he said.
Being financially secure enough to be able to retain a lobbyist took years of discipline as an organization.
Looking ahead, Eidson said telehealth and primary care are going to be big issues for everyone, from a licensure and access-to-service perspective.
He encourages occupational therapists in Alabama to attend the ALOTA fall conference at Orange Beach, AL, from Sept.14-16.
"It is a fantastic value-and it is at the beach!" he concluded.
Those interested in supporting the efforts of the OT profession in the state should visit www.alota.org and look under the "contact us" section for more information.
Beth Puliti is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.