It had been nearly 20 years since the Alabama State Occupational Therapy Practice Act was updated. In that time, there had been many changes in the health care landscape. The laws governing occupational therapy had to be updated to reflect those changes.
Thankfully, the Alabama Occupational Therapy Association (ALOTA) was up to the task. As a result, the practice act now includes an expanded list of health care professionals who can refer clients for occupational therapy services, language that allows licensees to include their academic credentials and their license acronyms, and more flexibility that allows state board staff to make technical rule changes.
“We started preparing for this legislative battle almost 2 years ago,” says Valley McCurry, ALOTA President. “We kicked around the changes we wanted to see, formulated a proposal, and once we had a draft we started preparing in earnest during the summer of 2012.”
Starting early was a key part of ALOTA’s success. They contacted other stakeholder groups such as chiropractors, physical therapists, doctors, and optometrists ahead of time to proactively address any concerns the other professions might have had.
“We reached out in a good faith effort to these stakeholders and told them to get back to us,” adds McCurry. “Only the optometrists raised a minor scope issue, and we were easily able to negotiate an agreement with them. Having everyone on board early paved the way for our success.”
Once the legislative session began, the bill was filed by Senator Jabo Waggoner, who steered the bill through the legislative process. “Senator Waggoner is also the chairman of the Rules Committee in the Alabama Senate and as such determines which bills go to the floor when,” says McCurry. “It was so important to enlist his help, and our lobbyist, Jay Murrill, did a great job of lining that up. On the House side, we had strong support from Representative Jim McClendon, who was great about learning our issues and always being able to answer questions from his fellow representatives.”
Once ALOTA had the support of key legislators in both legislative chambers, all that was left to do was activating the grassroots practitioner network.
“We’d send 1,800 e-mails out to our members urging them to contact their legislators,” says McCurry. “We included talking points about the bill and as a result, our phone calls and e-mails were very well received at the state capitol. The efforts were spearheaded by Chis Eidson, our Government Affairs chairperson, who did a great job of keeping the whole process moving forward.”
Members of the Alabama legislature told Eidson that the one-on-one meetings mattered. “Representative McClendon told me something in one of our conversations that I thought to be particularly insightful,” says Eidson. McClendon told them: “The best thing you can do is to get your people to meet their legislators. I know it can be intimidating, but ultimately, they want to represent you and they need to learn about the issues to do so, and the best way to do that is to talk with them. And you will find that by doing that, you will end up making relationships that can be really beneficial down the road.”
After months of preparation, updates to the Alabama State Occupational Therapy Practice Act passed both chambers of the legislature and now more accurately reflect the current health care system. It was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on May 28.