Dear ACSLPA members,
I am writing you today because we find ourselves in truly unprecedented times. Never before have Alberta SLPs and Audiologists been faced with concurrent pressures of this magnitude that are affecting their ability to serve clients in need, sustain their livelihoods, support their employers, and safeguard their families. ACSLPA has put together information on a range of common issues and concerns, which you can find on our website, and we will continue to update this information as we are able, but I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to you on a more personal level with a few common themes that are emerging in our responses to members who have reached out to us.
You have answered a calling as a health professional
It is important to bear in mind at all times that you are health professionals who have dedicated your working lives to serving the public to the best of your ability, even in the face of unprecedented challenges. As professionals, you are called to face today’s adversity with dignity, respect for others, and selflessness. When others might throw in the towel and say “enough already!”, you are called to dig deeper, assess how you can serve the public interest, and do what you can in your way to support the greater good. In so doing, you are called to use your knowledge, your skill, and your ethical judgement in all of your decisions and actions, whatever those might be.
Some of you will be asked to step outside of your comfort zones
In these unprecedented times, public health needs and employer needs have changed dramatically
and many of you will be asked by your employers to do things that are outside of your normal scope of practice. When this happens, you should consider the following simple decision-making process:
- Is the request ethical?
- Does this work serve the greater good?
- Do I have the competencies I need to do this work safely?
- If I don’t have the competencies I need to do the work safely right now, can I develop the competencies I need through employer supports, training, or other means?
If the answer to these questions is “YES”, you should consider doing what has been asked of you by public health or by your employer. Sometimes our first reaction to a sudden change in professional practice can be to cling to the security and comfort of our routine. Although it might be comforting to turn to employment contracts or collective agreements to find reasons not to step forward, I submit to you that those agreements are written for normal times and today the greater good calls for action that goes beyond the norm.
Assess the risk
Many ACSLPA members are struggling with tough dilemmas on how to serve their clients at a time when the barriers to doing so might seem insurmountable. I’m going to split this topic into two sub-headings which are risk due to cutbacks and risk due to pandemic.
Risks due to Cutbacks
SLPs and Audiologists are straining under the burden of some pretty significant government and employer cutbacks. This puts everyone in the difficult position of KNOWING in your heart that there are clients who need service, who deserve service, who will not receive the funding they need to receive service. What can and should you do to address the risks to your clients?
- Keep perspective. The decision to fund or not is probably beyond your power to control or influence, and so you don’t have a professional responsibility for the funding decisions that have been made. The role of SLPs and Audiologists is often limited to performing an assessment (drawing on their knowledge, skill, and ethics) and reporting objectively to the funder on the outcome. Although no one went into professional practice to see clients go unserved, the weight of the funding decision doesn’t rest on your shoulders and you may have to let that weight go.
- Do what you can, even if it isn’t much. Provide clients and their families with the information they need to make decisions, to advocate for themselves, to make choices for how they might find alternative funding (if any is available), and how they might access services outside the publicly-funded system. You can also work with associations or other groups to advocate, in a manner that is professional and responsible, for changes to funding.
- Take care of yourself as a professional and as a person. Cuts to funding also mean increased stress and impacts to livelihoods. Start an inventory of professional options that you can explore and start developing plans for how you can pursue them. Engage with colleagues and peers to develop support networks and work with associations to advocate for supports for affected practitioners.
Risks due to Pandemic
SLPs and Audiologists are hands-on, one-to-one, health professionals. Your contact with clients is your professional practice and your livelihood, and so the pandemic has an impact on both. Public health authorities have provided directions to all Albertans and to health professionals in particular on the importance of social distancing and infection prevention. It is important for ACSLPA members to be familiar with and follow these directions with exacting care. Links to relevant information are provided on ACSLPA’s website.
You should give due consideration to the risk of COVID-19 spread in your professional practice which includes spread to clients, to other service providers and support staff, and to you personally.
- Weigh the risks and benefits. This means asking yourself objectively to determine the risks and benefits of continuing to provide a service. What is the risk of COVID-19 spreading to my clients if I continue to provide professional services? What is the risk to my clients if I stop providing services? What are the risks to families, support staff, and others in each circumstance?
- Manage the risks if you can. Once risks have been objectively determined, assess if and how the risks can be managed to an acceptable level. Watch out for bias in this process; its is hard to be objective about risk if your livelihood and the livelihoods of others are considerations. When it comes to a public health crisis, however, the first obligation must be public safety.
- Discontinue services that cannot be provided safely. If you can’t say honestly and confidently that you can keep the public safe, you will have to face the difficult choice of discontinuing some or all professional services.
The College is here to support you
For many of you, the challenges you face today are heavy burdens. We appreciate the load you are carrying and we empathize with you. ACSLPA is receiving scores of member enquiries on everything from infection prevention and control to PUF changes to scope of practice enquiries. We have professional SLPs and Auds on hand to answer your questions, give you guidance, and provide you with moral support. If you need someone to reach out to with a practice issue, an ethical dilemma, or a professional concern, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
To contact us, please go to our Contact ACSLPA page.
We are of course also working under unique circumstances, with high call volumes, staff starting to work from home, and the risk that some of our employees might fall ill from COVID-19. If you don’t get one of our staff immediately when you look for our support, please be patient and we will get back to you as soon as we are able.
ACSLPA Registrar and CEO
March 16, 2020