On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the CARES Act into law. This massive, 800-plus-page bill included a debt-relief package for small businesses—and many PT, OT, and SLP private practices jumped at the chance to obtain a grant or loan that would help them weather the COVID-19 storm. Unfortunately, disbursement of these loans is delayed, and that’s forced many practice owners to make the difficult decision to furlough their employees until they receive the funding they need to make payroll. And in the meantime, furloughed rehab therapists have suddenly found themselves with a lot of unanticipated time on their hands.
If you’re one of these furloughed therapists, we want to help you make the most of a difficult situation. With that in mind, here are six things PTs, OTs, and SLPs can do during furlough:
1. Knock out your CEUs.
Continuing education: It’s important. And in the vast majority of states, it’s mandatory. But some rehab therapists struggle to carve time out of their busy schedules to complete their CEU requirements. Plus, because a number of industry events have been canceled—or postponed until later in the year—some therapists might have a difficult time meeting their CEU requirements with in-person courses. Fortunately, a number of online resources—like WebPT CEU—provide virtual continuing education courses that you can complete in the comfort of your own home.
2. Catch up on the latest research and best practices.
You know all those bookmarked journal articles you’ve accumulated on your web browser—the ones you promised yourself you’d read when you have a bit of downtime? Well, there’s no time like the present. Set aside an hour out of your day to read through the latest research and clinical best practices for your discipline and/or specialty. After all, being furloughed is likely a temporary situation, and by bringing yourself up to date on the latest research, you’ll be more than ready to hit the ground running once you’re back on the treatment floor.
3. Start writing.
If you have a creative itch, now is the perfect time to scratch it. As a rehab therapist, your knowledge and perspective are more valuable than ever before. So, why not get paid for it?
You may find publications that are happy to compensate you for your writing contributions as a freelancer. While freelance writing may not be a super-consistent source of income—at least, not when you’re first starting out—it can help you build up your experience and reputation as a writer, which will come in handy should you choose to continue using it as an additional source of income in the future. Check in with local and online publications that might benefit from the perspective of someone with your skillset, and pitch a few article ideas to them. You can also create a profile on freelancing sites like Upwork and Fiverr where companies and individuals in need of a writer with your specific experience can come straight to you.
If freelancing isn’t your thing—and if you’d rather pick and choose what you want to write about, then it might not be—you could instead use this time to build up your professional brand and start your own blog. Blogging isn’t the most instantaneous way to generate income, but getting started while you have a little extra time to devote to it will give you a running start once you’re back in the clinic full time. For more information on launching a blog, check out this WebPT resource.
4. Volunteer in your community.
If you’re willing—and able—consider devoting some of your downtime to your community. After all, nothing’s better for the soul than giving back. While this pandemic has taken a toll on most of us in some way, the consequences impact vulnerable populations the most. And because the key response to the current health crisis has been staying home and leaving only when absolutely necessary, many organizations have lost their regular volunteers. So, think about reaching out to local volunteer groups to see where your skills would be the most valuable. Some other ways to give back during this time include:
- checking in on elders who live in isolation,
- bringing groceries to low-income families,
- assisting homeless shelters and group homes with assessing individuals for coronavirus symptoms,
- fostering animals from a local pet rescue, and
- sewing face masks and providing them to people who cannot access them.
The APTA has also created two volunteer portals—one for members and one for non-members—where you can sign up for alerts about give-back opportunities in your area.
5. Strengthen your referral relationships.
Consider reaching out to some of your referring physicians to see if they—or more specifically, their patients—have any need for your services. In some regions where the coronavirus impact has been massive, hospitals have been overwhelmed with the influx of COVID-19 patients. As a result, many facilities are in need of additional support. As Heidi Jannenga mentioned in this month’s founder letter, “If you or your staff happen to hold EMT or other emergency training, there may be opportunities for you to support on the front lines as well.”
Alternatively, many orthopedic surgeons have had to halt elective surgeries, which has prompted some to recommend telehealth PT in the meantime. So, it might be worth reaching out to surgeons and offering virtual therapy services or additional support. Even if they don’t have any patients to send your way now, checking in with your referring physicians is a nice gesture that’ll strengthen those relationships in the long run.
6. Advocate for greater rehab therapy inclusion in telehealth.
In the midst of this crisis, major policy changes have expanded rehab therapists’ ability to deliver virtual and remote care services. But, PTs, OTs, and SLPs still are not universally recognized as authorized telehealth providers—meaning their ability to provide true therapy services in real time via a telehealth platform is severely limited. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been especially slow to enact changes that would allow greater rehab therapy inclusion in pandemic-related telehealth opportunities. That being said, CMS’s recent addition of “always therapy” codes to the list of billable telehealth services is an encouraging acknowledgment that therapy services can be provided virtually. Now, PTs, OTs, and SLPs must take this opportunity to advocate for themselves and their entire profession by pushing CMS to include them on the list of providers who are eligible to deliver those services. You can do your part right now by downloading our free telehealth advocacy letter templates and sending them to CMS.
It doesn’t stop with CMS, though: rehab therapists should be advocating for these changes with commercial payers and state legislators as well. So, take this time during your furlough to make your voice heard. The APTA, AOTA, and ASHA have developed a number of tools and templates to help providers reach out to payers and legislators and advocate for their profession—which makes pushing the industry forward just a little bit easier.
Being furloughed is never something anyone expects, and it can be difficult to see the silver lining. However, our current health crisis won’t last forever, so we encourage you to take advantage of this time and do something positive—whether that be for yourself, your community, or your profession at large.