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Carroll schools occupational therapist heads to Capitol Hill

Carroll schools occupational therapist heads to Capitol Hill
(Submitted photo)

Terri Beard had never gone to Capitol Hill before.

But Monday, the Carroll County Public Schools occupational therapist took a 21/2-hour trek from her home in Westminster to stand alongside other professionals and students from across the country to help legislators understand the importance of occupational therapy in health care.

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Occupational therapists assist people — children with disabilities, people recovering from injury and older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes — with everyday activities. They provide service in early intervention, school settings, home health care, hospitals, long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, nursing clinics and within the community.

Beard, a 15-year veteran with the school system, took the trip with hundreds of other members of the nationwide Occupational Therapist Association. She is in an online doctorate program at Eastern Kentucky University.

"My decision to go to Capitol Hill came because I am in a policy analysis class," Beard said. "We talk a lot about bills being passed and what's happening in Congress."

Before the class, Beard said, she did not closely follow policy. It had never occurred to her that she could make an appointment to meet with her representatives.

Beard, who is based out of Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead, works with the school system's Birth to Five program, which helps children with disabilities prepare for the preschool or kindergarten learning environment.

Beard works with children who have been diagnosed with disabilities including cerebral palsy, autism and Down syndrome.

"I go out into people's homes and help their children participate in meaningful activities of daily living," Beard said.

For children, this can involve feeding, dressing, grooming, developing play skills, developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination to prepare them for school learning opportunities, she said.

"It was a little intimidating," Beard said. "We met with the group and had an orientation meeting in the Capitol to prep us before we went to our meetings."

Portions of the group met with staffers from the office of Rep. Andy Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties, and staffers from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski's office.

The goal, Beard said, was to push legislators to incorporate occupational therapy into the mental health spectrum and discard funding caps for people receiving occupation, physical or speech therapy through Medicare.

Last year, Congress passed the Excellence in Mental Health Act, providing $900 million to expand access to community mental health centers.

According to Beard, Congress has not laid out specifics for how mental health providers will be paid through the funding. She said occupational therapists want to be included in the bill "because our origins are in mental health."

"The act is geared toward providing services in the community so people can live as independently as possible and lead active lives," Beard said. "Our services [in occupational therapy] encompass so many domains of daily living."

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Beard did not act as a formal representative for the Occupational Therapist Association, but she did some informal speaking during the event.

"It was definitely empowering being down there with policymakers, and for me, it made me want to learn more and have more awareness," Beard said.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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