By Victoria Jackson, MNS, CCC-SLP
Clinical Manager Central Region Texas
KidsCare Therapy Pediatric Home Health
I’ve been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist for over 20 years. I was first intrigued by the field when travelling home for the holidays after my first semester of college, when I sat on the plane next to a “Speech Therapist.” She worked for the schools and, for the entire airplane ride, filled me in on what it was all about to work in this fascinating field. That did it for me, and the next semester I declared my major – Communications Disorders in the College of Speech and Hearing Science.
My journey has taken me on a wonderful ride over the year,s working for the schools, hospitals, clinics, owning my own practice for a bit of time, and finally, to the home health setting. I enjoyed each experience, having been mentored by some truly intelligent, caring, and hard-working individuals. Working as a Speech-Language Pathologist afforded me the luxury of being able to stay at home with my growing family for a few years too, and then I was able to jump right back in without missing a beat.
When they were growing up, I always told my children that, no matter what they chose to do in life, make sure it was something they loved and that would allow them to have job security. Working as an SLP has allowed me the luxury of changing settings and always being able to find a job, no matter where we lived.
As I got older and had worked in the field for several years, I was able to find positions that allowed me to work in a lead/manager capacity, and that has been especially rewarding. Mentoring and training graduate students and new Speech-Language Pathologists along the way has also been something I’ve enjoyed. I’ve even been able to participate in guiding students in their diagnostic clinic in the University setting, and that was an exceptionally fun highlight in my career.
So, with all of these experiences over the years, people have asked me what my favorite setting has been; I don’t hesitate to tell them- home health!
When I discovered the home health setting several years ago, I didn’t look back. While each of my experiences afforded me the ability to acquire a variety of skill sets, home health has allowed me to have the biggest impact on my clients and their families. That in itself sold me, but there are many other pros to working in home health too.
I’ve been around a while and have worked for different home health agencies, and I know of just about every agency in my region. I speak only about the pediatric field of home health since that is where my experience lies. Now as a Manager for KidsCare Therapy, I interview and hire speech, occupational, and physical therapists. It’s my job to know what the competition is and to sell them on why they should choose KidsCare. That part of my job is easy because KidsCare is one of, if not the best pediatric home health agencies in the state of Texas.
What sold me on KidsCare, and what you should look for in a good home health agency…
Who owns the business? Is it a businessman/woman, or is it a therapist-owned company. Huge difference. A therapist-owned company is going to approach everything about the business in a totally different way than someone who has never worked as a therapist.
An owner who worked as a therapist first, and then went forward to start a company is someone who will put clients and therapists first. Plain and simple. Yes, making a living will come into play, but putting money and profit first will not be the main focus of the business. That may not always be the case, but in my opinion, it warrants merit.
Don’t just go for the highest paying job. Are the visit rates competitive, or does the company pay salaries? Money can be enticing, however, check out the company thoroughly first and talk with other therapists in the area to get a feel for the company’s reputation. A high paying salary, or a salary itself can draw you in, but then you might find out later that you’ve bought yourself a pair of golden hand-cuffs! There are other things to consider besides money – yes, being paid what you are worth and a pay rate that is commensurate with your education, skills, drive, and the amount of hard work you’re doing is very important to consider, but being happy with your company, how they take care of you and your clients is perhaps even more important.
Does the company provide you with test instruments and test protocols, or do you need to purchase them yourself? Tests are expensive, and they are always being updated. Even if you have to share a set of tests with another therapist or two in your area, that is not as bad as if you had to own your own set of tests. Also, having a supply of test protocols to use is equally important. Scrambling for a test or a protocol when you have an eval coming up is no fun at all.
Is the company you’re thinking about joining organized? KidsCare has a department for everything – I think of it as a well-oiled machine. Yes, we change things up more often than not, but that is to keep up with all the changes in the industry, and to keep up with insurance changes – and that’s an on-going thing. I joke that one of the great things about KidsCare is that we change things all the time in order to be state-of-the-art, and that one of the challenges is that we are always changing things! Well, if we are all honest with ourselves, life is all about change, right? The reality is that there is no perfect job, no perfect company, and no perfect life… But, is the life you are living, the job you are in or considering going to give you balance and be a positive experience overall? Life/work balance is vital and feeling supported in your work environment is crucial to enjoying your everyday life and let’s face it, most of our life is spent at work!
Honesty, integrity, ethics… Does the company you’re interviewing with follow through with what they say they’ll do? Do they have integrity – are they ethical? At KidsCare, we do everything above board. No question. We have a quality assurance department who closely monitors how we do things so that we are adhering to state regulations and following best practice – always. No question and no tolerance for anything less than top-notch work! We also don’t expect you to deal with difficult or unsafe situations on your own. We’ve got your back. Does the company you’re considering take care of their therapists in that way?
Regionalized caseloads… When building up a new territory, as we have done in central Texas, therapists have worked hard travelling far and wide and working long days, but that is not the typical way of doing things, nor the long term goal! Once an area is built up, a therapist should be able to get from client to client within a half-hour or 45 minutes tops. In the home health setting, if a potential employer tells you something else, I’d question it. The very nature of working in home health is that you go from home to home and most of the clients you’ll see will be those after-school kiddos. If that’s not what you’re looking for in a job, then you should consider another arena other than home health.
But, even given the fact that you are driving all day and that you may not start your day til mid-morning and work until supper time or a tad later, you will have great flexibility in your schedule and in your week. You set your own schedule to some extent.
As a single mom for many years, I enjoyed working in the home health setting because if I needed to take my young son to the doctor, I could rearrange my schedule a bit, get him to the appointment and back home or to my parents’ house (I was so very lucky to have them nearby to help me in situations such as this.), and never miss any work – didn’t have to take PTO! Another scenario is the therapist who wants that long weekend get-away but doesn’t have PTO available. He/She could work long days Monday through Thursday and have the flexibility on Friday to be able to make that trip and not be penalized for taking time off.
And that takes me to #7…
PTO. Paid Time Off is no good if you can’t use it. I encourage my therapists to use their PTO as long as their clients are taken care of either being seen before they leave, or being taken care of by other therapists who are pitching in to help out. I also want to make sure that we don’t have too many people out at once. Following the Plan of Care as closely as possible is vital to ensure client progress. And, let’s face it, if we don’t see clients, we don’t get paid. In order for a company to be able to offer the best benefits to their employees, consistently following the plan of care and completing the required number of visits each week is critical.
Take your time off and recharge – just do it smartly!
Being in the home health setting can be lonely at times. You are travelling from home to home seeing kiddos and not always seeing other therapists. Yes, you will share clients and cross paths, but sometimes you just want to bounce things off another therapist! Does the company you are considering hold periodic staff meetings and communicate with you to make sure that you know who your team mates are in your region? Here at KidsCare, we offer quarterly meetings to keep everyone abreast of company and insurance changes. In the central region, we also hold informal staff meeting regularly where we discuss changes, ask/answer questions about policies, procedures, etc., and where we also discuss specialty topics and difficult cases. These time are also just great to be able to meet fellow teammates and simply get to know each other.
Is the company you’re considering organized enough to be able to take care of proper diagnostic coding/billing for you? At KidsCare, we have a staffing, processing, authorizations, scheduling, and a quality assurance department to name a few… We’ve got you covered!
Lastly, what kind of electronic medical records system will you have to use? One company had me carting around my laptop and checking in with my iPhone for a hotspot to be able to log into our electronic medical records system to complete my notes and write up my reports. To say the least, not an easy task. Here at KidsCare, we give you a tablet to use and the internet is built into the system. You can log in, track your time, have your parent/caregiver sign your notes/consent forms electronically, and then you can write up your note/report anywhere, anytime… We want to make your job as easy as possible in terms of record-keeping. After all, you got into this to work with kids – not to do paperwork. We also review every report written to make sure all the important stuff is there to meet payor criteria. Is the company you’re thinking about taking care of all these things for you?
Choosing the right setting for you to be able to shine and flourish is important. Make sure you consider all your options.
I wish you the best in choosing the right work setting for you and your lifestyle. Good luck!