Telepractice - Making a Change in Montana
It is amazing what can happen when people share the same goals, especially when a child is the beneficiary.
Montana schools have struggled with a chronic problem: hard-to-fill speech-language pathologist vacancies. Schools are unable to fulfill their commitment to their students, speech teams feel overwhelmed, and children are forced to wait months or years for services. We know the life changing impact that our services have for children – imagine what our absence means to their lives. It is not fair. Thanks to those who advocated for solutions, this unacceptable reality is about to change.
On November 1, the State of Montana will enact Bill 230, which supports telepractice as a quality therapy delivery platform when implemented within the scope of best practice. Telepractice is the medium that speech-language pathologists (SLPS) use to reach the people they serve. For instance, with TinyEYE’s integrated platform, SLPs sit face to face (online) with their students, teachers, and parents to provide a full scope of services. Remember, we SLPs are not “telepractice”. We are experienced, qualified professionals who have the capacity to serve schools through telepractice, just as we would if we could walk through the front door.
Since co-founding TinyEYE nearly a decade ago, I have witnessed many regions evolve their legislation to support telepractice. Wonderful outcomes will emerge from this evolution. Below are just a few examples of the value of telepractice that awaits Montana:
Benefits for Montana
- SLPs can have a consistent presence at schools. You can choose to drive or beam-in to your schools for services such as meetings, in services, consultations, supervision, assessments, and therapy. You can finally be two places at once. Because your presence will increase, your sense of “heavy workload” will lesson. You will start feeling the valuable impact you have on teachers and students when you see results happening.
- SLP teams can benefit from access to SLP colleagues. Telepractice simplifies the logistics involved in service delivery. For instance, our online speech team partners with same location SLPs to help serve in a variety of ways, such as taking accountability for: bilingual/ESL students, remote or challenging locations, short/long term work leaves, CFY or practicum supervision, and types of service needs (consultation/assessments/types of therapy needs). Whether teams are waiting for a fulltime, part time, or casual colleague, telepractice grows teams.
- More SLPs will be available in Montana. To grow a profession, we need qualified supervisors so that new graduates can chose to work in underserved regions. Without supervisors, new grads cannot complete their CFY requirements. Telepractice makes quality supervision possible. Likewise, SLPs who are at risk of leaving the profession due to their location or family responsibilities can now offer their services to Montana without the barriers of geography and time restrictions. Telepractice brings more SLPs to the field. One of my Montana SLP friends reminded me that when she is "out in the field", she is literally "out in a field"!
- Schools that struggle to recruit and retain therapists can increase access to qualified applicants. Schools no longer have to wait for a qualified SLP to move to and stay within their community so that students can receive consistent care. Telepractice enables schools to hand pick the best applicant who is licenced in the region, even if the SLP lives hours away.
- Schools can achieve service goals for their students. Our schools report a sense of relief and anticipation when we establish our service plan with them. They know we are going to achieve outcomes for their students and they have a committed team of professionals driving those results. When SLPs incorporate telepractice, the school budget becomes student focused (rather than paying for hours of driving, schools pay for quality time with students). Telepractice helps SLPs drive outcomes without so much driving.
- Parents who ached for their children while waiting for support can gain confidence in the consistency, quality, and accessibility that services through telepractice provide. From early childhood through high school, we advocate for their children and we bring our professional best to them. Telepractice also alleviates cost and time pressures on families who previously had to choose between no services, inconsistent services, or driving far distances to access services. An increase in early intervention services can lesson school caseloads, which will help SLPs feel more effective with the children who require long term support.
- Children will change our communities. As we celebrate our schools that have partnered with us for years, we realize that our first students have grown forward to become positive participants in their school and community. Our favorite story is about our TinyEYE high school student who graduated and is now a teacher of new TinyEYE students. When hundreds of children learn in a communication enriched environment, communities change.
What do SLPs Think about Telepractice in Montana?
This summer, I was able to meet with a group of passionate SLPs when co-founder Greg and I presented at the Montana Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Summer Institute. Their plight reminded me of my challenges before I incorporated telepractice into my service. For instance, one SLP drove hours to complete an assessment and does not see a sustainable service plan becoming a reality. She felt upset because she could do so much for the child, but she cannot realistically be there for her as often as the child deserves. This experience was echoed throughout the day. We had open dialogue to alleviate hesitations and to achieve clarity about ensuring service excellence though a telepractice platform. Telepractice is a welcomed tool for our profession. By the end of the day, we had bonded as a cohesive group of committed individuals who shared the same mission: to provide accessible, high quality services that achieve goals and improve lives for our children, schools, and families.
Our visit was featured on page 2 in the MSHA Communicator in September: http://www.mshaonline.org/images/pdf/9-13communicator.pdf
How Can School Districts Explore Telepractice?
TinyEYE Therapy Services can make a difference in your school district. To learn more or to establish a pilot program, please contact David Rubenstein. You can reach him by phone at 484-433-7966 or email: DavidAtTinyEYE.com. David will also be attending the MSHA Fall Conference, October 17-19. When you visit him, tell him Marnee says high-five!
My Message to Montana
I have walked a mile in your shoes. I grew up in a prairie province in Canada. Communities are spread out throughout the region and sometimes you can only access a community by boat or plane. I love the people in my province. As a speech-language pathologist, I recognized that hundreds of my communities did not have any therapy support. This was heart breaking to me - I wanted to be there for all of the students who needed help - I love growing smiles, mending spirits, and engaging children in their lives. That is when my brother, Greg, stepped in to help. Nearly ten years ago, he pulled together the resources to build the first ever fully integrated, online speech therapy platform so that I could beam to any school and have all of my materials right on my screen. Such a nice brother! We faced incredible barriers. For example, I risked losing my professional license if I served through telepractice. For the children, we pushed legislation changes. Both research and associations have analyzed TinyEYE and found us to be an effective, quality service delivery platform. Today, our therapists serve more than one hundred children every day in my province alone and our schools have contributed to the evolution of our platform. We have enabled more SLPs to move home to their province after graduate school and we have created jobs in communities. Best of all, we have seen our first students graduate as confident, life long communicators. Montana, we are feeling ecstatic for you as you begin your journey of connecting people for growth and support through telepractice! Below is a video I made in my early days - it reminds me of my resolve to keep pushing for solutions for the children who need us most. I want to share it with you, to honor your children.Marnee Brick, MScSpeech-Language Pathologist and Director of Speech Therapy
TinyEYE Therapy Services (Speech and Occupational Therapy Telepractice)
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