Students from the Shenango campus' OTA program stop for a picture in front of the Capitol building in D.C. on HIll Day in Sept.

Hill Day in Washington, D.C. gives OTA students insight into legislative power

OTA students receive the skills they need to be successful in their field while getting real life, hands-on experiences, such as visiting Washington, D.C. on Hill Day.

Each semester, Penn State Shenango’s Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) students plan several events in support of their field of study. These initiatives include community outreach programs as well as learning/skill projects.

This past September, thanks to a grant that was received from the Penn State Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, several sophomore OTA students joined hundreds from their profession to speak to senators and representatives in D.C. on various topics, including supporting rehabilitation research, repealing the Medicare therapy cap, supporting occupational therapy (OT) in Medicare home health, and passing the The Lymphedema Treatment Act.

“Hill Day was such a great experience,” said OTA student Ali Izzo. “We were able to talk with our senators and representatives about what we were advocating for, and they really seemed to care. We got to educate a lot of people in Washington, who were not familiar with occupational therapy or the services we provide.“

During this semester, the campus’ OTA students researched and discussed all of the topics that would come up at Hill Day, including which legislators they would be talking to and how the representatives normally voted on healthcare issues.

In addition to meeting with the legislatures, the group discussed topics of concern with students from the Penn State Dubois campus, who were also part of Hill Day, as well as other OT association members and seasoned occupational therapists.

Students arrived on Capitol Hill on Sept. 19, where they received a debriefing of the day’s events, including logistics of their meetings and best approaches to their questions and comments.

Shenango campus OTA students discussed four main topics during the Capitol Hill event:

  • Support of rehabilitation research within the National Institute of Health (NIH). Backing for this research would enhance rehabilitation sciences at the NIH without increasing spending and without diverting support away from other importation NIH priorities.
  • Repealing the Medicare Part B Outpatient Therapy Cap, which allots a client $1,960 per year for OT services. The American Occupational Therapy Association supports full repeal of this cap due to the limits it has on access to medically necessary rehabilitation services.
  • Supporting occupational therapy in Medicare Home Health. If Congress passed legislation to vote for this initiative, it would allow home health agencies the flexibility to use the most clinically appropriate skilled service to open cases and conduct initial assessments. Currently, physical therapists and speech pathologists must open cases for OTs, causing money to be spent on unnecessary services and time wasted on client services.
  • Passing the Lymphedema Treatment Act. If covered under Medicare, this act would improve access to the medically necessary, doctor prescribed compression supplies that are the cornerstone of lymphedema treatment.

“We weren’t just advocating for our profession at Hill Day,” said Shenango OTA student Holly Masters, “we were advocating for our future patients.”

In a follow-up to their time spent at Hill Day, the students sent emails and letters to legislators to reiterate their messages and provide them with additional information and statistics.

The Penn State Shenango OTA program and OTA Club have many other initiatives planned for the remainder of the fall and upcoming spring semester, which will continue to engage them in the community.

“This degree is all about teaching students the fundamentals of occupational therapy while at the same time giving them real life and hands-on experiences so that they are prepared and have the knowledge they need to be successful in their field,” said Marge Pendzick, senior instructor and program director of the Shenango OTA program.