Teletherapy Could Solve Indiana’s Speech Therapy Problems

by VocoVision on November 23, 2018

speech therapy problems shortageIn June 2007, the state of Indiana passed legislation to allow communication disorders emergency permits. This law allowed schools to hire graduates of four-year speech-language pathology programs who have been accepted to master’s programs. Master’s programs are typically required to obtain a full license to practice as SLPs. The law expired in June this year, leaving the state with a shortage of therapists once again. Many in charge of hiring SLPs for their districts didn’t find out the permits expired until the spring after the legislative session had ended.

The Problem: Bureaucratic Red Tape

It may not seem like much of an issue, but because the law allowing for emergency permits lapsed, legislative action is required to remedy the issue. Because legislation takes time to draft, approve, and enact, many students who rely on these services won’t see the issue resolved for quite some time.

Though there wasn’t a number of students affected, close to 20% of all the special needs students across the state need SLP services. The employees operating under these emergency permits can no longer continue using them. The state cannot issue new permits or extend the old ones without lawmakers taking action.

The Solution: Telepractice for Speech-Language Pathology

School districts often face SLP shortages for the simple fact that the pay might not be as lucrative for school speech pathologists as it is for hospital or nursing home facilities. This, combined with the fact that the required master’s programs have enrollment caps mean there’s almost always a shortage of professionals available to fill the vacancies.

In one area alone, a special education cooperative serving four districts in north central Indiana lost a practitioner because the permits expired. She now has a team of three SLPs, though she needs seven to be considered fully staffed. She has a co-op serving approximately 1,170 students, and 455 of them need speech services.

This particular problem isn’t one just seen in Indiana. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says demand for SLPs is projected to grow 18% by 2026. This is a result of growth in the groups of people who need services along with earlier and more frequent identification of speech-language issues.

Rather than relying on SLP assistants to fill the gap, who can only provide certain services with supervision, Indiana could solve the problem the help of SLPs offering teletherapy. Because distance is no longer an issue when using this method, the state could work with providers practicing anywhere in the U.S. and allow their on-site staff to work with students who require face-to-face services.

To help alleviate the problem in her district, the co-op director is using teletherapy for her high school students because they typically require less intensive therapy.

The emergency permits aren’t a permanent solution to a long-term issue, but they certainly helped solve the issue in the immediate future, which is why they were helpful in 2007. Until the larger issues are solved, the combination of emergency permits and teletherapy will serve students in need.

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