Guest post by Karen K. Swisher, PT, MPT, DPT, of California
It's the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded. Are we, the profession of physical therapy, going to step up to the plate to be heard? The answer is a resounding YES! YES to the hope of hitting a home run! YES to being heard!
Approximately 1,000 PTs and PTAs said yes to PT Day on Capitol Hill. The event started with a rally on the lawn; all of us facing the Capitol and listening to the National Anthem. Professionals in our association for over 50 and 60 years were recognized. I spoke with those around me and was amazed to find many physical therapy students there to represent our profession. The specific issues at hand are bills that relate to: (1) the balanced budget act of 1997 (repealing the Medicare cap - an arbitrary limit on financial services to PT/OT care without consideration of pathology); (2) adding PT students to the loan forgiveness act if they choose to enter underserved communities via the National Health Services Corps; and (3) the concussion bill that includes PTs in the team of professionals surrounding head injuries to determine safety and timing in return to activity.
As APTA President Scott Ward, PT, PhD, spoke on the first issue I was flooded with emotions remembering back to 1997. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I recalled my own graduation. At the time the balanced budget act of 1997 was implemented, I was a graduating from Old Dominion University's master of physical therapy program. Not only did it rock our profession with a "knee jerk" reaction of laying off PTs, it made it nearly impossible for new grads to get a foot in the door. After searching and interviewing at clinics and hospitals in my area I realized there was a hiring freeze. All I could think was, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" I was eager to work and full of excitement only to find I would wait 6 months after graduation to secure a job-and with $35,000 in loans deferred for 6 months (a far cry from the $100,000+ that burden those committed to answering a call today).
During that transition I went to Florida to help my grandparents: my grandfather couldn't drive, and my grandmother was in an acute care facility with a fractured right tibial plateau (NWB for 3-6 months) and a fractured right distal radius, and recently recovering from a left rotator cuff repair a month and a half out. The state-of-the-art facility, which employed 25 professionals (PT, OT, and speech therapists), was preparing to lay off 12 professionals due to the financial burden of the balanced budget act. The need to care for patients in this facility was unchanged. The workforce to do it, however, was obliterated! How could we allow this to occur for the well-being of the patients we serve? This flashback prepared me for the work ahead. We marched as 1,000 strong carrying a message to the legislative body of our nation.
Along with Ryan Johnson, PT, DPT, a new addition to our profession having graduated 3 weeks ago from UCSF, I had the opportunity to meet with Kristen Glenn, who is California Congressman Tom McClintock's health advisor. We spent over 30 minutes discussing health care concerns specific to our profession and the patients we serve. She listened intently and added her thoughts and concerns. We shared stories of our professional experiences and were grateful for her genuine concern. I learned that Ryan followed in the footsteps of his father, a PT for over 30 years. He made it clear as a member of the Board of Directors for the Student Assembly that his voice represented the 15,000 students in our profession. In fact, we represent the field of 210,000 PTs and PTAs in our profession and, more important, the patients in our care.
I believe we hit a home run! We were heard! We fostered a new relationship with our congressmen out of the concern for the PT profession and the patients we serve. Many physical therapy professionals concluded the same experience. As Katherine Sullivan, an APTA House of Delegates representative for the Neurology Section, noted of the final motion brought before the House, "PTs are committed to a society where people of all ages live healthy, active, and productive lives with optimal function." As a first-time delegate of the House of Delegates, I felt that this final day of a 5-day stint was a life-changing experience in my career. It was the "cardiac paddles" I needed to erect a spirit of hope and a commitment to change. We can no longer proceed along the same path if the path is not the one that will allow us to arrive at our final destination! Please rise to be heard! At any level - city, state, or national - one voice can be the catalyst to change.
Karen K. Swisher, PT, MPT, DPT (right), with Ryan Johnson, PT, DPT, and Kristen Glenn