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ADVOCATES: (left to right) Slippery Rock University therapeutic recreation majors recently met with U.S. Rep Mike Kelly (Pa.-3rd) to advocate for the inclusion of therapeutic recreation in insurance coverage. The group included: Courtney Morales of New Freeport, Jackie McCarthy of Pittsburgh, Liz McDonald of York, Anastasia Pyzik of Baltimore, Md., Robin Bowser of Kittanning, Jim Kramer of Pittsburgh, Kelly, Janelle Krantz of Corryville, Kody McInturf of Greenville, Lacey Weaver of Conneautville, Colleen Cooke, SRU associate professor of parks and recreation/environmental education, and Kaitlin Daly of Cleveland, Ohio

Student advocates push 'TR' cause

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - "Amazing," "eye opening" and "extremely beneficial" are how Slippery Rock University therapeutic recreation majors describe their advocacy trip to Capitol Hill last week. Students attended the American Therapeutic Recreation Association Conference and met with U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (Pa.-3rd) to ask him to sign a letter calling for greater insurance coverage for recreational therapy.

"The highlight for me was meeting my representative," said Lacey Weaver, a therapeutic recreation major from Conneautville. "When we walked into his Washington, D.C., office, there was a big Slippery Rock University flag hanging on his wall. That instantly made us feel at home."

Colleen Cooke, associate professor parks and recreation/environmental education, organized the trip. She said they asked Kelly to sign on to the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services' request for a public clarification of insurance coverage. The American Therapeutic Recreation Association wants regulations to clarify that recreational therapy, as therapeutic recreation is sometimes called, should be covered in skilled nursing facilities as well as inpatient rehabilitation and inpatient psychiatric facilities.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson (Pa.-5th) wrote the letter on behalf of the recreation therapy profession and is circulating it on the Hill. Thompson is a retired recreational therapist who recognized holes in coverage, Cooke said.

Current regulations cover recreation therapy services in skilled nursing facilities, but there is no specific language indicating that the same coverage should be provided in inpatient rehabilitation or psychiatric facilities. Cooke said she expects Kelly to sign the letter and emphasized the educational gains students experienced by attending the conference and lobbying to lawmakers.

"Attendance at the professional meeting had a significant impact upon our students, faculty and the therapeutic recreation program at SRU," Cooke said. "For students, it provided them with tremendous opportunities to broaden their horizons in terms of internship possibilities. In addition, students were exposed to greater variety of therapeutic intervention techniques and efficacy research related to therapeutic recreation in general."

The nine SRU students also met with U.S. Rep. Jason Altmeyer (Pa.-4th), and aides from the offices of representatives Joseph Pitts (Pa.-16th) and Mike Doyle (Pa.-14th.)

Weaver said she decided to go on the trip to learn more about therapeutic recreation and meet professionals in the field.

"The congressional experience was amazing because it gave me the opportunity to advocate for my professional and to tell people about this tremendous service that recreational therapists can provide," she said.

Weaver said the greatest need for therapeutic recreation is increased awareness. A lot of people don't know about it. Therapeutic recreation specialists use activities to address the physical, cognitive and psychosocial needs of persons with illness or disability. Activities and intervention techniques improve health and promote wellness and independence.

"I am passionate about therapeutic recreation because the field is able to help so many people with disabilities," Weaver said. "TR has the ability to enhance the quality of life for so many individuals and uses leisure and recreation as a modality to help them accomplish their goals."

Weaver said she has an internship lined for this summer at NeuroRestorative in Fairview, where she will work with people who have had a traumatic brain injury.

Janelle Krantz, a therapeutic recreation major from Quarryville, said the experience helped her realize how important it is to advocate for your profession.