Rachel Ashcraft Deek Cunningham Veronica JuanRachel Ashcraft, Deek Cunningham, Veronica Juan in Washington, D.C.Deek Cunningham, MS, OTR/L, assistant professor in the UAB School of Health ProfessionsDepartment of Occupational Therapy, Veronica Juan, a second-year student in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program, and Rachel Ashcraft, an alumna of the MSOT program, spent a recent day discussing the future of their profession and the future of their clients’ care in the offices of Alabama’s congressional members.

Their efforts were part of the AOTA Centennial Hill Day and Cunningham and Juan relayed the results of their work to first- and second-year MSOT students on Monday, October 16, 2017.

“Advocating for occupational therapy and our clients was an empowering experience, and to do so by speaking with legislative assistants at the Capitol was an amazing opportunity,” said Juan. “This has sparked a fire in me to be more involved in healthcare reform and policy to ensure our clients receive the care they deserve. As students, it is our responsibility to be aware of current events and how it will affect us in the future. I definitely benefited a lot from Hill Day and will continue to use the skills and knowledge to advocate for our profession.”

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The OT team met with legislative assistants in the offices of Alabama members Rep. Gary Palmer (6th District), Rep. Terri Sewell (7th District) and Sen. Richard Shelby.

They discussed the Home Health Flexibility Act, the Medicare Part B Therapy Cap, and the funding for Title VII and Title VIII of the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) and the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET).

Presentation Deek CunninghamDeek Cunningham“My eyes were opened to many governmental issues when it comes to meeting with others and requesting co-sponsorship for bills. I wanted to impress upon the students the importance of not only educating themselves about issues that might affect their future as occupational therapists and the clients they serve, but ways to be involved and advocate for their profession as well,” said Cunningham.  “When I graduated from UAB almost 20 years ago, the Medicare cap for billing was implemented and still today our profession and our clients are dealing with the effects of this governmental decision. So, I wanted the students to know that they need to get involved now for the benefit of their profession and the clients they will work with for the rest of their careers.”

Cunningham and Juan discussed with the class the preparation homework they completed weeks prior to arriving in D.C., as well as research conducted into the backgrounds of Hunter Hobart (Rep. Palmer), Hillary Beard (Rep. Sewell) and Clay Armentrout (Sen. Shelby) and how it allowed them to approach each of these legislative assistants about their positions on healthcare. They also stressed to the students that making these connections personal – for instance they learned Juan and Beard have the same hometown – is the best way to stand out when you have limited time to meet.

“It was an honor to meet with each office and I was incredibly encouraged by their willingness to consider these issues,” said Ashcraft, who is the Alabama Occupational Therapist Association’s government affairs representative. “I’ve been in contact with all the offices since leaving and am working to build relationships with the people we met with so that OT stays on their mind.”

Presentation Veronica JuanVeronica JuanIn fact, Cunningham, Juan and Ashcraft have all reached out to these three offices and will continue to consistently voice their concerns. One of the last slides of Cunningham and Juan’s presentation highlighted an important take home point. That consistency and repetition is key to advocate for change. Their presentation ended with an inspirational quote from Amy Lamb, AOTA President who was in attendance at Hill Day. “Your advocacy of today will write the history of our profession”

You can read more about their preparation for this experience at AOTA Centennial Hill Day; as well as more about their personal journey to the nation’s capital  in the “AOTA Centennial Hill Day – Update” blog post written by Ashcraft.

The nationwide event, which honored the 100th anniversary of occupational therapy in 2017, is held annually as AOTA Hill Day. This year saw more than 600 occupational therapists, occupational therapist assistants and occupational therapy students descend on congressional offices in Washington, D.C.