Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

I whooped with joy upon reading the news release that OTs have been listed as “suggested staff” for newly created certified behavioral health clinics.  From the nearly 2,000 views and many responses on Facebook, many of you feel the same way. I am enjoying this moment, made sweeter by the hard work that we put into advocating for it.

Now what? The door has opened a crack, and it will be up to us to make the most of the opportunity. We finally have a chance to show our stuff in a small group of two-year Planning Grants for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. Listen to the language of this legislation, which mandates that the grant winners will:

Facilitate cultural, procedural, and organizational changes to CCBHCs that will result in the delivery of high quality, comprehensive, person-centered, and evidence-based services that are accessible to the target population.

Doesn’t this sound like a perfect fit for OT? There will be up to 25 demonstration programs that will, hopefully, light the way for future community mental health programs across the country. OTs can be invited to join teams that would include some combination of: psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatric nurse specialists, marriage and family counselors, substance abuse counselors, peer specialists/recovery coaches, case managers, and community health specialists. Team members will participate in training and development.

Goodness knows we need these programs. The vast majority of Americans with severe and chronic mental illnesses receive no or inadequate care at this time. The outcome of such negligence is crime, homelessness, child abuse and neglect, and lost lives. Occupational therapists know that we have unique skills and knowledge to help provide essential care for people with mental illnesses. I can speak from my own experience that this is a wonderful group to provide services to, one that will allow you to use all of your expertise.

Having celebrated briefly, now is not the time to sit back and relax; we need to rally and bring on our best game. The grants proposals will be due in June 2016. Stay on top of the issue by getting onto the AOTA email list at fad@aota.com . Also, get involved at your state level, find out who is drawing up the grants, and get involved. If your state is submitting for a grant, advocate for OT to be included in their planning; we are not required team members at this time, so we must continue to educate and advocate.

Once OT positions are written in and opened up, we must respond by applying to and taking them. While a 2-year grant project may not appeal to everyone, remember that those involved will be pioneers on the front end of something big. They will be framing up the future of contemporary community mental health, and educating the rest of the team about the unique value OT adds to the work. To my mind, having this kind of experience can open many doors to an exciting career ahead. For sure, you would have a tremendous impact on the people’s lives that you serve every day.

This is the best opportunity we have had in decades; let’s step up and make it count.

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