University News

Western New England University Students and Faculty Engage in AOTA's Hill Day in Washington, DC

Published: October 06, 2023 | Categories: Pharmacy and Health Sciences, All News
Occupational Therapy students and faculty get the chance to meet with Congressman Richard Neal in Washington DC.

A dedicated group of 14 students and four faculty members from Western New England University (WNE) embarked on a meaningful journey to the nation's capital this past weekend as they participated in the American Occupational Therapy Association's (AOTA) Hill Day event. This delegation played a vital role in advocating for the profession and addressing pressing issues facing occupational therapy (OT) services.

AOTA's Hill Day, held annually in Washington, DC, offers an exceptional opportunity for occupational therapy advocates to engage with policymakers and legislators. The event focuses on discussing critical issues in healthcare and advocating for policies that support the profession and, most importantly, benefit the patients.

During their visit to the nation's capital, WNE students and faculty engaged with congressional staffers for House representatives and senators from the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. They were part of a larger assembly of occupational therapy practitioners from across the country, united in advocating for the profession.

Over the past decade, the OT profession has faced numerous challenges, including budget cuts imposed by Medicare in the name of budget neutrality. WNE's delegation focused on advocating for two crucial pieces of legislation: The EMPOWER Act which aims to allow occupational therapy assistants to provide services with decreased supervision under Medicare and also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the cost implications of Medicare cuts. The second piece of legislation, Expanded Telehealth Access Act, would establish OT telehealth services as a permanent method of service delivery under Medicare.

WNE OT students and faculty have had direct experiences with clients who will be impacted by these pieces of legislation through the BEAR PAW Center, where WNE provides free OT services to clients who have been denied coverage due to Medicare cuts. Many clients continue to benefit from therapy services even after their insurers have ceased coverage. The next plan for the BEAR PAW Center is to begin to offer telehealth services to clients who otherwise cannot access therapy services.

Brittany Adams, Chair and Program Director of WNE's Occupational Therapy Department, expressed her enthusiasm for AOTA's Capitol Hill Day, saying, "AOTA's Capitol Hill Day is one of my favorite events each year. We strongly encourage our students to attend because it is such a unique opportunity for them to use their passion for the profession of occupational therapy to learn about the U.S. legislative process, embrace the power of advocacy, and feel empowered about making a positive difference. I am so proud of the students who voluntarily attend each year."

The WNE delegation brought their passion and expertise to the nation's capital, actively participating in discussions, meetings, and advocacy efforts. They joined their voices with others in the field to emphasize the importance of occupational therapy and its role in improving the lives of countless individuals.

One of the highlights of their journey was meeting with Rep. Richard Neal, a prominent figure in Massachusetts politics. Congressman Neal, welcomed the WNE delegation stating, "I am a strong supporter and advocate for OT. My daughter-in-law is an OT. As my generation of baby boomers is getting older, we will need OT services more and more."

Kimberly Geisner-Gross, Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, shared her thoughts on the experience, "Attending Hill Day was an amazing experience. Rep. Richard Neal was approachable, greeted each of us directly, and gave us ample time to speak about our concerns. He took time to show us the Capitol from his balcony and described the Capitol building."

Chelsea Monpas, a Doctor of Occupational Therapy student at WNE, expressed, "Attending AOTA's Hill Day in Washington D.C. was such an amazing experience. Having the opportunity to speak with legislators about the importance of occupational therapy and expanding healthcare access was one of the most impactful experiences I have ever had."

Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy, Alexis M. F. Morin, shared her perspective as well, saying, "It was an empowering experience to represent not only the occupational therapy profession but also the OTD program at WNE. The students displayed their passion for the profession and articulated their thoughts in a compelling manner, which was rewarding to watch."

WNE remains committed to preparing its students to be work-ready and world-ready graduates. Engaging in events like AOTA's Hill Day not only enriches their educational experience but also equips them with the skills to make a difference in their chosen fields.