We all know that most people don’t like change, but it can be particularly stressful when one of the characteristics of ASD is you don’t handle change at all. So, when a therapist or mentor changes it can be a big deal for everyone. In a busy practice, we often have to explain the change to clients or their carers or parents, who would have preferred for things to continue just as they were. And as a client, you are entitled to ask “why?”.
Firstly, let me give you just one example of why therapists move: our own Director, a speech pathologist, stayed in her first job for under a year, she loved the work but hated the travel. In her second job she stayed for 2 years, before moving into an early intervention role. With the NDIS there are now so many more opportunities for therapists and movement within practices is greater now than it ever has been. We have even had our therapists report that people try to poach them on a regular basic. Just have a look at the jobs advertised for speech paths and occupational therapists at the moment and you will kind of get an idea of the current problems.
It would seem a simple solution would be to pay them more, and this may work for some therapists but we are not all competing in an equal field. For example, we are registered providers, our costs are much higher than that of an unregistered provider or a provider who is working from their home, or a not for profit provider who doesn’t pay payroll tax and can offer salary packaging, so sometimes we can’t compete.
In addition to this, our staff are people with their own lives, that often can impact on their ability to work. For example, this year we have had a therapist whose spouse was transferred away from Adelaide. A mentor who left to care full time for her son as he developed a health condition. Someone who decided after a tough year personally outside the practice to take a year off work to concentrate on their own mental health. And many similar cases, including a couple of retirements so far this year.
There is also maternity leave, and currently we have a little boom of new babies, with our Practice Manager Yasmine, due to have twins early next year. And we welcomed our newest member of the PAHS family, baby George, only a few months ago.
Another reason that therapists may leave is to specialise in certain areas which their current practice doesn’t offer. For example, Dysphagia (swallowing) is a specialist area, and few practices offer it. Our newest speech pathologist chose us over other job offers as she could work and develop her skills in this area.
There are also multiple other reasons why staff no longer see clients, including health. One of our very skilled staff recently stopped seeing clients to prioritise his health, but still provides supervision to our staff, after a diagnosis of cancer.
Staff promotion can also impact on clients as when a therapist takes on a more senior role, they spend a fair chunk of their time doing higher duties, including guidance and management to more junior therapists, to do this they will often move clients to other therapists.
While it’s obvious that our staff are perfectly entitled to make decisions about their future, it does leave us with a really important question, and that is, what are we doing to reduce the impact on clients?
Firstly, we ask staff to give us maximum notice when they plan to leave. We hope for 6 weeks but ask for 4 as minimum. This gives us time for a steady transition where possible. Of course, we often have waiting lists on some services it’s not as simple as just reassigning therapists, but we do our best.
Secondly, we are working with our staff to increase transparency. So, if we know they aspire to a different position or to specialise in a different area, or to work in a different sector, we work with them on a plan that they will eventually exit the business and we do it in such a way that it causes minimum distress.
Also think about it from the other side, we know that clients don’t like changes in therapists, but neither do we, especially as people will often make the assumption it’s because we are a ‘bad employer’. You can imagine the work a departure means for our scheduling team and how disappointing it is for us when as a practice we promote professional development, often spending over $3000 or $4000 a year per clinician on it, only to find them leaving and taking the skills we have paid for them to acquire to another position.
At the time of writing this, we have 67 staff and have just created six new therapy vacancies and ten new mentoring ones due to growth. With so many staff and the disability sector changing so rapidly, staff will change, but we will do our very best to manage it and won’t lose sight of the plans and goals of our clients, we will always strive for each therapy session and mentor shift to be the best it can be, even if it’s occasionally with an unfamiliar face.