School district OKs contract therapists in midst of shortage; No qualified applicants
Facing a national shortage in occupational therapists, the Lee County School District has approved a deal that will contract therapists from a St. Petersburg agency to work with students across the county.
The school district is currently experiencing a shortage of occupational therapists with no qualified applicants. Officials estimate a shortage of approximately 300 hours for student consultations, evaluations, the creation of individualized education plans or IEPs, and other documentation.
According to federal requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, any student issued an IEP must have access to services such as speech development, strength and endurance training, and the honing of visual or motor skills.
In Lee County there were approximately 7,000 students with disabilities enrolled in the 2007 to 2008 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education.
This year the school district will begin contracting occupational therapists from Community Rehab Associates, an agency that specializes in home- and school-based therapy.
For a licensed occupational therapist, the agency is charging $60 per hour. It is charging $48 per hour for a certified occupational therapist assistant. Services from the occupational therapists will cover 35 hours each week.
Dr. Constance Jones, chief academic officer for the school district, explained that the district has experienced a shortage in these types of therapists, like other organizations nationwide.
“We’ve been in a shortage for the last five years,” she said.
Jones explained that it has been difficult to recruit more occupational therapists because of competition with private practices, and because the student population in Lee County has grown substantially over the last five years.
She added that the deal approved by the school board asks for a maximum of 300 hours, but schools could actually use less or more of that time, depending on the need.
“They will serve students throughout the district,” she said. “We may not use all the available hours on the budget, but we can always go back and add more.”
Contracted services will begin at the end of September through the entirety of the school year, and will cost approximately $65,100. Further, the agency is required to cover professional liability and medical malpractice with a minimum liability of $300,000.