Power in Numbers
I think we can all agree that these are not ordinary times. Of course, no one who is informed would probably say that any era is “easy” or free from trouble, but the concerns that we face right now are extraordinary in many ways. The future of health care in the United States is in flux, with protracted uncertainty about public versus private funding. Like it or not, our collective destiny is dependent on political/legislative outcomes; the degree to which OT services are compensated will determine what we are able to do in medical and rehabilitative settings.
If you’re like me, you haven’t been very politically engaged for most of your life. Personally, I find talk and news about politics to be a combination of dry, stressful, and confusing. Not my cup of chai. But I recognize that I can’t have the luxury of allowing others to do all of the thinking and work relative to political issues. This is no longer about chai or no chai. When the seas grow turbulent, we need all hands on deck, and drinking chai is not even an issue. Some legislators are openly questioning whether we need Medicare or Medicaid at all.
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Do you realize how rare and special we OT practitioners are? Relative to other professional groups, we are few. Take a look. This graph depicts the total numbers of practicing professionals in the U.S.
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You’ll notice that the OT slices of pie are, even when combined, skinnier than any of the others except maybe the Speech and Language Pathologists. Our small numbers work against us when we are trying to be heard by legislators, especially when we must often compete with the big guys for resources. One reason we are often misunderstood is that the nature of our work is, ideally, complex and situation-specific. The other reason is because we’re relatively rare.
Of course, the sheer number of constituents is just one source of potential clout. A greater source of power is money. It’s very clear that legislators are hungry for donations to their re-election campaigns. They listen best to those who have most. So here’s the money picture, based on our numbers multiplied by our average salaries. (Prepare yourself- the news does not get better.)
I am not telling you this to bring you down or discourage you. I’m telling you this to motivate each and every one of you to band together by joining the AOTA and your state association… today! Immediately! It’s our best strategy for making substantial improvements in our daily work situations.
Right now, as we speak, our national and state associations are working hard to monitor and respond to a never-ending stream of opportunities and threats for you and me. Opportunities like getting us included as qualified mental health professionals in Illinois. Threats like the movement to do away with all professional licensure at the state levels (leaving us open to “everyone does everything” issues). And lots more besides.
Here’s a startling fact: in most states, only about 10% of the OT practitioners join their state Occupational Therapy Associations. Fewer than half of us belong to the American Occupational Therapy Association. Just think what we could achieve if we all pulled together, so when they have to represent us to the legislators and insurance corporations they could say they represent ALL of us! (And, by the way, as a longstanding, paying member of AOTA, I am compelled to mention that I grow weary of carrying this unassisted… come on and pitch in!)
The legislators we have elected are actually debating whether or not people should have health care. Every nickel is being debated. It is more important now than ever before that we band together and make sure we’re counted. Each and every one of us. Because what we do is transformative for people whose lives are imperiled by disabilities, illnesses, and a society that rejects them. We provide unique and essential services. What we do makes a huge difference and greatly helps individuals, families, and our troubled world. We need to keep our profession funded.
Like I said, I really dislike thinking and worrying about politics. And that’s why I pay for membership in AOTA and ILOTA and their PACs to watch over and lobby on my behalf. They do a great job, but their voices are only as loud as we make them. You and me. Together. Today. Please.
1) Stein, J. Ryan says Republicans to target welfare, Medicare, Medicaid spending in 2018. Washington Post, December 16, 2018. Retrieved 3/4/18 from: