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Therapists shortage hits schools

Jeanne Atherden, health minister

The number of therapists in Bermuda’s schools will be cut in the approaching school year.

The Department of Health Therapy Services, which provides early intervention screening and other programmes helping about 1,200 children each year, has been hit by staff departures, according to a press release from the Bermuda Government.

With waiting lists for therapy expected to grow as the Department carries out a recruitment process, health minister Jeanne Atherden issued a statement sympathising with parents and students.

“As the Minister of Health, I recognise that this is a less than ideal situation and strongly sympathise with those parents and students affected but the Ministry is doing its best to resolve this challenge as soon as possible,” Ms Atherden stated.

The Department said in its press release: “The beginning of the 2015/16 school year will be impacted by fewer therapists providing school based services.

“To respond to this challenge, services will be restructured to ensure that all Government schools will continue to have an assigned therapist from each discipline: occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech-language pathology.

“Speech-language pathology and occupational therapy services for clients in home schools and private schools will resume when recruitment is completed. Parents and guardians will be contacted in due course.”

All Government preschools, primary and middle and senior schools will be assigned a speech-language pathology therapist, said the statement.

It continued: “However, service delivery will be impacted in all schools with increased focus on consultation and training/workshops. There will continue to be individual client sessions with clients that are eligible for this service.”

The Department of Health Therapy Services provides services for early intervention in children from birth to age four, as well as for school aged children in Bermuda’s public and private schools. This includes screening and assessments, intervention and prevention and promotion information for about 1,200 children across the Island each year.

The statement said: “Several therapy posts are in the process of recruitment. A number of therapists who have provided an excellent service to the community have moved on with their careers. As a result, staffing for these programmes will be challenged for the early part of the upcoming school year.

“Early intervention helps babies and toddlers learn the skills that develop during the first three years of life. The team of early intervention therapists will be reduced by one speech language pathologist while recruitment is under way. During recruitment the six-month wait list period for assessment is expected to increase. Therapists’ caseloads will be managed to so that general therapy services delivery will not be disrupted.

“Although wait lists do not currently exist for therapy services in the schools, it is anticipated that all areas will be impacted for the start of the school year due to recruitment.”

Service delivery methods will be based on eligibility and will include triaging referrals, monitor/consultation, parent training/workshops, teacher training/workshops, block therapy, group therapy, prioritising individual direct therapy.

“Some clients may choose to seek private therapy services within the community due to the wait times for assessment/intervention services,” said the statement.