Bill would assist speech therapistsA South Dakota legislative bill that would require the licensure of speech language pathologists would aid a new program at Mitchell Technical Institute. The bill passed on the Senate floor by a vote of 29-2 Thursday and now heads to the House.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
A South Dakota legislative bill that would require the licensure of speech language pathologists would aid a new program at Mitchell Technical Institute.
The bill passed on the Senate floor by a vote of 29-2 Thursday and now heads to the House.
South Dakota and Colorado are the only two states that do not require such licensure. State Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, is among the numerous co-sponsors on the legislation.
State Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, said the state’s speech pathologists have been working toward licensure for two years.
“This our first step in that (licensure) hurdle,” she said.
The bill has been forwarded to the Health and Human Services Committee for action. If it survives that process, it will go to House floor, where a positive vote would send it to the governor’s desk for his signature.
“The intent of licensing is for public safety, so the public is assured the clinicians who are practicing out there, no matter if they’re working in schools or in health care, have a minimum standard for performance,” Hunhoff said.
Licensure also assures that speech language pathologists have a foundation of knowledge and are ready to enter the education or health-care workforces, she said.
The proposed law will have positive ramifications for the new two-year Speech Language Pathology Assistant program at Mitchell Technical Institute, Mitchell Technical Institute President Greg Von Wald said.
Von Wald and speech language pathologist Jennifer Schultz testified in favor of the bill Wednesday before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Schultz — a certified speech language pathologist for the South Central Education Cooperative who works in the Menno and Scotland schools — is co-chairwoman, with Becky Cermak, of Brookings, of the South Dakota Speech Language Licensure Committee. It’s a group of 17 volunteer speech language pathologists seeking better regulation of their profession.
Schultz, a past president of the South Dakota Speech Language Hearing Association, said that professional organization’s nonprofit status does not permit it to lobby, or to hire lobbyists to promote a bill, so the volunteers are giving their time to support the bill.
While SLPs must certified to work in schools, she said, there are no laws on the books to stop unqualified people from providing speech pathology services outside the schools.
There are also no standards for supervision of speech language pathology assistants, she said, and the new law will supply those standards. Other licensed professions in the state, such as occupation therapists and physical therapists have such supervisory standards, she said.
While the bill remains a work in progress, in its broadest form it will:
n Require the licensure of all speech language pathologists (SLP) and speech language pathology assistants (SLPAs) after July 1.
n Grandfather in bachelor’s degree-level speech language professionals currently certified by the Department of Education prior to July 1.
n Eventually require master’s degrees for all new SLP’s after July 1.
n Authorize the creation of a licensure Board of Examiners under the supervision of the South Dakota Department of Health.
n Set requirements for the supervision of speech language pathology assistants.
n Set a supervisory ratio of one speech language pathologist to three assistants. Assistants also must complete an accredited program and a 100-hour clinical practicum under a certified SLP.
Practically speaking, it take about nine months to set up a licensure system estimated Schultz. In the interim, the Department of Education will continue to consider applications for certification.
Von Wald said the new legislation will give credibility to MTI’s new speech language pathology assistant program and will also safeguard the public.
“My concern is that if you put speech language pathologists on the street without professional requirements, that you’re just asking for chaos,” he said.
Von Wald said the SLPA program was developed in response to a shortage of speech language pathologists in the state’s school districts. He believes licensure will increase the credibility of the program and will accomplish that goal.
The MTI program has 13 second-year students who will graduate in May, and eight first-year students. It can take as many as 18 first-year students, VonWald said.
Deb Flynn, director of the MTI speech language pathology assistant program, said the proposed licensure law outlines the clinical and legal responsibilities of those who provide speech language pathology services.
“Licensure will give the job of speech language pathology assistants more recognition,” Flynn said. “Right now, since this is a new program, some students have an uneasy feeling. They don’t know how they will be received.”
There was also worry that some school districts might try to use less expensive assistants rather fully qualified SLPs, she said.
Licensure addresses both those concerns.
She believes licensure will increase the demand for her students and also will help to ensure they will receive reasonable pay for their services.
Hunhoff said the bill has nothing to do with compensation. “That will be left up to the market for those individuals,” she said.
By law, schools must provide speech therapy through special education departments or through service cooperatives shared by several school districts.
Flynn, a working speech language pathologist, said the state’s speech language pathologists were disappointed with the failure of last year’s attempt at licensure.
The first attempt failed because several rural school districts were concerned that the regulations were too cumbersome and the stiffer requirements might cause the loss of bachelor-degree certified speech professionals that were developed through on-the-job training and make it tougher for them to find qualified, and affordable, SLPs.
Schultz said her committee worked with special education directors after that first licensure attempt to develop a more acceptable bill. A provision in SB 72 that grandfathers in all certified speech language professionals helped to allay those concerns.
Hunhoff said the first licensure try passed the House easily last year but opposition killed it in the Senate committee. That process was reversed this year and the revised bill easily passed in the Senate.
She doesn’t expect that will same opposition will materialize this year.
Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves said licensure probably won’t cost school districts any more than they’re now paying for services, but he thinks the new law will help to increase, and not decrease, the availability of qualified speech pathology professionals.
“We’re planning to hire a speech language pathology assistant next year,” Graves said.