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Occupational Therapy students visit Capitol Hill to learn about the legislative process and advocate for bills

OT students and faculty met with U.S. Senator from Maine Angus King and his wife Mary Herman
OT students and faculty met with U.S. Senator from Maine Angus King and his wife Mary Herman

December 06, 2019

Faculty and students outside Senator King's Washington, D.C. office
Faculty and students outside Senator King's Washington, D.C. office
Students and faculty also met with staff members from Senator Susan Collins office
Students and faculty also met with staff members from Senator Susan Collins office

Eight students from UNE’s Occupational Therapy (OT) program were recently accompanied by two faculty members on a trip to Washington, D.C., for the American Occupational Therapy Association's (AOTA) Hill Day.

More than 520 occupational therapy clinicians, educators, and students from 35 states and the District of Columbia convened on Capitol Hill for this year’s Hill Day to discuss key legislative issues affecting the profession and the state of health care.

"Hill Day is an excellent opportunity for students to see, first-hand, how the legislative process works,” commented Caroline Beals, M.S., OTR/L, assistant clinical professor in the Occupational Therapy program. “UNE has a proud history of preparing students to be leaders in the OT profession and advocates for their clients, with many recent graduates taking on leadership and advocacy roles in their communities and workplaces.”

Students met with representatives from their respective home states in either a group or one-on-one. Leeza Seelbach (Occupational Therapy, ’21 ) and Bethany Gruskin (Occupational Therapy, ’21 ) met with two senators in groups of about 30, and then each had a one-on-one conversations with a staff member from their representative’s office.

“As an emerging occupational therapy practitioner, AOTA Hill Day was a wonderful opportunity to begin learning about the complex world of health care and legislation,” Seelbach commented. “I was proud to represent UNE on a national level and start a journey of advocacy for the profession and the needs of our clients.”

The students advocated for three bills currently under consideration. The Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act would allow occupational therapists to open home health cases in rehabilitation-only situations. The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act would increase educational opportunities for underrepresented individuals through grants for support services. The Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act would provide loan forgiveness for individuals who practice in underserved areas in mental health settings.

“With the support of faculty mentors, AOTA Hill Day was an easy way to advocate for occupational therapy on a national level early on during my time here at UNE,” Gruskin said. “I enjoyed learning about the different bills and what they mean for future clients and occupational therapy practice.”

“It was a fulfilling experience as an educator to support advocacy in our OT students through the AOTA Hill Day experience,” stated Kate Loukas, O.T.D., M.S., O.T.R./L., F.A.O.T.A., clinical professor of Occupational Therapy. “Occupational therapy needs future practitioners who are prepared to showcase our profession and advocate for the needs of all people in our society.  I saw students embrace this challenge.”

The AOTA is a national professional association that represents the interests and concerns of occupational therapy practitioners and students to improve the quality of occupational therapy services.

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