Where do I begin? The past year and several months have been quite a ride! Kind of like a Kennywood ride for those from western Pennsylvania or Candymonium for those from eastern Pennsylvania. At times frightening, at other times somewhat nauseating, but finally ending with a feeling of relief to be back on safe ground. It also feels to me like a storm that has been weathered. We have all suffered personal and professional hardships during this time, but hopefully now that the worst is over, we can begin to look forward to brighter days ahead.
I look back in awe at what we were able to accomplish during these unprecedented times. We found ourselves working on the front lines in health care, school-based and academic settings. The needs of our patients and students continued despite the pandemic. While many in the state and country
binge-watched Netflix shows, we were taking crash courses in teletherapy, learning how to teach remotely and diligently following COVID-19 precautions. We often placed ourselves at personal risk to provide these services. I applaud the efforts of every speech-language pathologist (SLP) and audiologist who persevered throughout the pandemic without the fanfare afforded other professions. You are my heroes.
So, here we are at the beginning of a new era. What have we learned? Well, we are a very resourceful and flexible group of professionals. We have learned how to provide high quality services via teletherapy. We can transition from face-to-face services to remote and back again multiple times over several months. We can effectively educate students remotely and assist them in accruing clinical hours via teletherapy and simulated cases to permit them to graduate on time. We can somehow communicate with our patients despite wearing gowns, gloves, N-95 masks and face shields. We are really good at disinfecting too!
But here is something else to consider. Throughout the pandemic, the PSHA Executive Board remained active and devoted to addressing the needs of the membership. When others withdrew from engaging, PSHA Board members, all volunteers, increased their time and efforts devoted to the organization. With the great leadership of Bob Serianni and Pam Smith and with the fabulous support of Craven Management Associates in the PSHA Business Office and our lobbyists with the McNees-Winter Group, the work of the board continued.
Here is a summary of the work of the Executive Board over the past year:
The PSHA Executive Board continued to meet four times a year (April, June, September and December), but this was conducted via Zoom sessions. Since our 2020 and 2021 in-person Conventions were cancelled, we held our annual Town Hall meetings via Zoom. These meetings were very well attended, and we plan to continue using online formats to reach our membership and communicate the activities of our state association on a regular basis. Our Annual Business Meeting and Professional Roundtable Discussions were also held virtually to inform the membership of the status of the organization and to obtain feedback from the membership of its needs.
We held scaled back virtual Conventions in the fall of 2020 and summer of 2021. Transitioning to a virtual Convention was an exhaustive effort of the Convention Committee and the PSHA Business Office. Kudos to Erin Lundblom and her committee for their hard work in transitioning to the virtual format to provide high-quality continuing education opportunities to members. Presenters were very receptive to modifying their presentations to an online format, and we are very appreciative of their willingness to do this. Students were also provided an opportunity to present their research in seminars and poster sessions, something that is vitally important to this valued group of members.
We plan to return to a face-to-face Convention in Pittsburgh in April of 2022. More to come on that exciting news in the next few months!
What does the board do, anyway? The president, president-elect and past president continue to have a monthly leadership call with the PSHA Office and invited select board members, so that our work can continue between our regular board meetings. The presidents also regularly participate in Council of State Speech-Language-Hearing Association Presidents (CSAP) meetings, and they attended two virtual Conventions over the past year to obtain leadership training and to engage in a forum for collaboration and networking among state association leaders. ASHA also offers a forum for state association leaders that PSHA presidents regularly attend. We continue to engage in interprofessional communication with our colleagues in physical and occupational therapy (PPTA and POTA). We share common concerns regarding changes in practice patterns, reimbursement and regulation.
PSHA continues to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to address concerns about school certification for SLPs and the impact on professional preparation and career advancement. There is an ongoing need for clarification regarding the Educational Specialist Certification versus the Instructional I Certification and the similarities and differences between the two. We are working toward a certification process that grants all qualified practitioners equal access to career advancement within the Pennsylvania public schools. To this end, members of the PSHA Executive Board and representatives of many university programs in the state attended a meeting with PDE personnel in April to address the certification to address these concerns. A follow up meeting is scheduled in late July. We will keep you posted regarding the developments.
Due to ongoing concerns about caseload/workload and funding issues in our state, we have established a Schools Committee that will be working to clarify and make recommendations about these issues. A survey developed by the Schools Committee was completed by more than 900 school-based SLPs in the state, the results of which are being reviewed and analyzed. Members who are interested in volunteering to join this committee should contact Caron Anthony-Higley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Eileen Cirelli at Eileen.email@example.com.
Our advocacy efforts include working on issues related to state licensure and communicating changes that evolve through the pandemic and afterwards. We continue to work toward streamlined processes for provisional licensure and transition to full licensure for our newest members of the profession as well as easing the transition for those who come to Pennsylvania from out of state. We have met with the State Board of Examiners in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology to discuss the application process. PSHA has also provided feedback regarding the regulatory waivers due to the pandemic to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs.
PSHA continues to be committed to students as the future of the professions. Advocacy continues to be an essential part of our responsibilities as professionals. Our new graduates entering the field must have the knowledge and skills to work toward positive change. PSHA hosted a Student Advocacy event in February that was a great success. More than 80 students from 15 Pennsylvania universities attended the event to learn about the legislative process and how to advocate for the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology and those whom we serve. Much thanks to our student representatives, to Angie and Natalie from the McNees-Winter Group and to Rep. Brandon Markosek and Rep. Dan Miller who presented to the students and energized them to continue with advocacy efforts in their local communities. Student advocacy will continue to be a PSHA initiative.
From a legislative standpoint, with the assistance of our lobbyist, we regularly obtain information about legislative issues in Harrisburg, alerting us to bills and discussions that can impact our practice in Pennsylvania. We continue to advocate for legislation that enhances the practice of speech-language pathology and audiology and communicate information about legislation that can negatively impact our professions. A current legislative effort relates to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) licensure. PSHA Board members and our lobbyist met with ABA representatives to voice our concerns over professional infringement and to request wording in the bill that addresses infringement. And they agreed! PSHA also provided input about more specific wording in a telemedicine bill that would ensure that telepractice speech therapy services would not be excluded.
So, the work of the PSHA Board has been very fruitful over the past year. I have mentioned only a few of the devoted PSHA Board members by name, but all members of the Board tirelessly provide their expertise and support to the organization. But now I submit my challenge to you. How many times over the past several months have you stated or heard someone state, “This isn’t right. Something must be done about this. Why doesn’t somebody do something about this?” Well, maybe that somebody is you! PSHA needs you! To borrow a line from a great orator: Ask not what PSHA can do for you. Ask what you can do for PSHA! Here’s why. As previously outlined, your state organization addresses the most pertinent professional issues that impact what you do on a daily basis.
Here are a few things to consider:
Consider contacting your state legislators. Do you know who your state representatives and state senators are or their voting records regarding legislation impacting the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology? Have you ever contacted them? Take a few minutes to find out and give them a call. They do listen.
Consider joining a PSHA committee. Unhappy with the continuing education offerings at the PSHA Convention? Join the Convention Committee! PSHA is recruiting members to assist in planning and programming for upcoming Conventions. Contact Bob Serianni at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. Fed up with state regulations, licensure or PDE? Join the Government Relations Committee! PSHA has just developed this committee and is recruiting members to address state-level professional issues. Contact Erin Buckwalter at Erin.Buckwalter@pennmedicine.upenn.edu to learn more.
Feel like you want to get more involved but not the committee joining type? Consider joining a PSHA regional group (SWPSHA or NESHAP) or keep abreast of PSHA through our social media outlets. Dana Bitetti does a great job of providing regular updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Consider being an advocate for building PSHA membership. Encourage colleagues to join PSHA. Due to the cancellation of the face-to-face Conventions over the past two years and declining membership, PSHA has suffered significant financial hardships. To continue to have a viable state organization, it is vital that we build member involvement and membership. We plan to take our show on the road this year and to host face-to-face town halls to engage with members. We will keep you posted of dates and times.
Consider presenting at the Convention. You make a difference in the lives of your patients and students every day. Maybe others can learn from your expertise. Look for the call for papers that will be circulated soon.
To end, thank you again for the important work that you do to make a positive impact on all whom you serve. What a great profession! Despite all of the frustrations we encounter, it really is a great profession, and we should all be proud to be a part of it. Please contact me with feedback or to provide suggestions (or to volunteer!!). I look forward to hearing from you.