As a special education administrator, you oversee a multitude of moving parts: people, programs, paperwork. Staying on top of the details, especially those that impact your budget the most, can be challenging.
One of your greatest challenges is making sure your clinicians’ occupational therapy schedules are set up for maximum productivity.
Occupational Therapy (OT) jobs are projected to grow 16% by 2029—much faster than average for other occupations—with at least 12% of occupational therapists working in schools.
When it comes to your district’s current and potential OTs, how can you figure out which ones are pulling their weight and which ones aren’t? Are your most vocal, “overloaded” therapists really in need of help, or does something else need to change?
There’s one quick and easy way to find out: Look at their schedules.
Evaluating therapists’ schedules takes a little know-how. As a co-founder and managing partner of Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS, Inc.), I can tell you how to get started.
(By the way, I’m not out to pick on OTs! These guidelines for reviewing an occupational therapy schedule work just as well for the schedules of therapists who work in any other discipline).
Make Sure Clinicians’ Work Schedules Account for Every Time Slot
When you request a copy of your OTs’ and your Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants’ (COTAs) schedules, you’ll need to give some explicit guidance on what information therapists should provide. If you don’t, you’ll get a simplified list of which buildings they serve on which days. You’re going to need more detail than that.
Ask for a weekly schedule that looks like this one. Note how it accounts for every time slot in the day:
You’ll want therapists to enter students’ names in each scheduled treatment slot. Next to each name, they should specify whether the student has individual or group services on their Individualized Education Program (IEP). That information will be important later.
If therapists see more than one student during a given time slot, they should list both students’ names in that session.
Therapists should clearly designate any time slots not spent working with students as one of the following:
- Preparing for a therapy session
- Completing paperwork and documentation
- Providing consultations and diagnostics
- Taking care of other required tasks
Evaluate How Many Sessions Therapists Cover Per Day
Look at the number of occupational therapy sessions in your schools each day instead of asking how many students are on your therapists’ caseloads.
Why make this distinction? Because, one student with significant needs in a multi-disabilities classroom can take as much time to cover as four students in learning support. Recognizing this reality, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) encourages a shift from “caseload” to “workload” as the more accurate measure of all practitioners do (directly and indirectly, to support students).
On average, a typical occupational therapy schedule can accommodate 12 students per day, versus a physical therapy schedule, which has space for 10. Likewise, a speech therapy schedule can fit 13 to 14 students.
In order to have room in their schedules for diagnostics, consultation, and paperwork, therapists should see some students in small groups rather than all students individually. They should base their decisions about grouping on sound, clinical judgment and student need.
Ask your team to put “I” (individual) or “G” (group) next to each name on the work schedule based on what the student’s IEP requires, so you will know who could be grouped.
Replace Any Scheduling Gaps With Designated Time Blocks
Gaps in therapy schedules are big productivity suckers.
Certainly, therapists need time to do paperwork. But, beware of multiple gaps in a single day held open for planning, documentation, and diagnostics. One or two diagnostic blocks in a week should provide plenty of time.
Schedule paperwork, diagnostic, and planning times at the start and end of the day. Then, if contracted, therapists end up needing less time for these tasks. They can come in or leave early, slimming their schedules and saving your program money.
Often, schedule gaps are not the fault of therapists. They arise from a lack of student availability. You may need to advocate for your providers to receive more flexibility from teachers in the building.
Help Your Related Service Providers Work More Effectively
If you see something that looks amiss in an occupational therapy schedule, or if you find some team members are carrying an unfair share of the workload, it’s all right to say something.
When you’re the person responsible for the budget, optimizing schedules is an important component of fiscal responsibility. Streamlining your related service providers’ schedules is a great first step toward that goal!
Helping your therapists schedule their time is only one important way to analyze and control the cost of related services in your district. To discover even more, download your free copy of our eBook, Take a Bite Out of School-Based Therapy Costs.
It will give you plenty of concrete ways you can make your program more efficient and cost-effective without sacrificing any quality in the services you provide.