Reflections — July 29, 2010 at 7:55 pm

The Switch

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By Michelle Sachs Clapp, CCC-SLP

Back in 1998, I was working with the geriatric population in a SNF setting. The pay was good and I enjoyed my job- at least the direct contact with my clients and the camaraderie with my coworkers. What I didn’t like was the growing amount of redundant paperwork required of me and the increasing demands and tightening criteria of what counted as “direct” or billable time.

I was forced out of this setting by the changes in Medicare standards and the fact that I was a “dinosaur” in the field- I had over 15 years of experience as a speech/language pathologist and it cost agencies or facilities a lot more to keep me on or to hire me than a more recent graduate with less experience. After being “offered” a 33% pay cut along with the promise of a pink slip in a few months, I re-examined my career choice within my chosen field. The job market was not promising for me in light of my years of experience and the pay had been cut drastically, due to the new methods of reimbursement ( direct, billable time as opposed to salaried). I had two young children and although I didn’t have to work full time, I did still have to work to help pay the bills. I decided to apply for a position with a local early intervention agency that was advertising for a speech/language pathologist.

At my interview, I feigned great interest in working with little children, even though I felt that I had little patience for this population. I played up the experience I had from years and years ago working in the Head Start program and with elementary school children. Sure enough, a position was offered to me- 2 days after I was offered a per diem position with 3 SNF’s in a not-too distant town. I accepted the per diem position. Within 2 days on the job, I knew it was a mistake. Criteria for who qualified for my services severely restricted who I could work with, regardless of my professional opinion of who would benefit from my assistance. I could see that I would be spending a lot of time with minimal financial reimbursement. And the paperwork was quite overwhelming as well.

I called the early intervention agency that had offered me a position and indicated to them that I was still interested in them, if they were still interested in ME. They called back and our partnership began.

For the first year of my new career with little ones, it felt like I was paddling upstream; it had been years since I had worked with pediatrics and I was behind in skill, knowledge, lingo, etc. I worked directly with the children and their families during the day and studied and read up on pediatrics on my own in the evenings. After my first year there, I finally felt comfortable enough to start widening my knowledge base by taking on a more varied caseload, reading additional materials about non-speech/language issues with this very young population, and really listening to and doing co-visits with my non-SLP co-workers.

To summarize, I am now completing my 11th year working in early intervention! I love what I do. I feel like I rediscovered my field of work and put my heart into what I do. I feel very alive in my daily work and the rewards are priceless. The pay may not be as much as it is now in SNF’s, but the benefits (being paid with hugs, kisses and holiday photos) more than make up for the lack of monetary compensation. Way back when, when I was applying for this position, I thought that I was faking my enthusiasm about this population but much to my surprise, I discovered that I love love LOVE working with these little ones and their families! I have plenty of patience for them; I guess it was my OWN kids that I had the lack of patience with! Although, as I get a bit older, it gets a bit harder getting up and down off of the floor from my visits, I will continue to do so for as long as I can and will continue to learn about and take on the various challenges that working with the 0 to 3 year old population holds for me.

Michelle Sachs Clapp MA CCC SLP graduated from University of Delaware with a BA in Communications and completed her MA at Ohio University. Since entering the field, she has worked in a variety of treatment settings but finds her current position in early intervention to be her favorite. In addition to her career in Speech Language Pathology, she has honed her parenting skills over the years raising a daughter, son, and soon to be stepdaughter. Her happy home life is fully rounded out by the love and affection of her cat and dog. She has practiced Kundalini Yoga for the last 9 years which maybe how she maintains her charm and humor when life presents unexpected changes.

Michelle is a good friend and an excellent clinician. It was a distinct privilege to work with her so many years ago when our careers as SLP’s were shaken to the core by PPS. I am honored that she agreed to share her method for dealing with the January 1999 reimbursement changes for SNF’s. These regulations continue to test the patience and ethics of individual practitioners across the country. As we prepare for the next round of changes, Michelle’s experience serves as a timely reminder of all the opportunities our profession affords us.

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