Therapy program finds new home

Jamie VanGeest

The University program in occupational therapy’s uncertain future is now a little clearer.

Rather than closing, the program is being moved from the University’s Medical School to a new Center for Allied Health Professionals within the Academic Health Center.

The new Center for Allied Health Professionals will also include the University’s medical technology program.

“We want to let everyone know that we are still here,” said Peggy Martin, assistant director of the program in occupational therapy.

In September 2004, Medical School Dean Deborah Powell suspended admission to the program in occupational therapy for the 2005-2006 school year. This decision put the school’s future in question.

Martin said she thinks the school was targeted for closing because it didn’t fit closely enough with the University realignment plan.

Also, the occupational therapy program doesn’t raise as much research money as other programs in the Medical School. Additionally, past enrollment in the program has been down.

“I think one of the reasons why we were targeted (for closing) was because we were one of the biggest ‘misfits’ in the Medical School,” Martin said.

The Academic Health Center will review the current ban on enrollment and the future path of the occupational therapy program in coming months, said Barbara Brandt, the assistant vice president of the Office of Education for the Academic Health Center.

This week, faculty members of the program for occupational therapy are preparing a study about the program. In January, an executive steering committee will evaluate the program, Brandt said.

The decision to lift the ban on enrollment and the future direction of the school is ultimately decided by Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the Academic Heath Center, Martin said.

Wayne Zerr, a second-year occupational therapy student, said it’s a bad decision to stop enrollment in the program because it affects students, faculty members and the community at large.

“Frank Cerra could care less about our existence,” Zerr said.

Cerra wrote in an e-mail, “I have been and remain very concerned about the future of occupational therapy as a profession and as a program in the Academic Health Center.

“We are working to make the program one that can meet the workforce needs in Minnesota in a financially sustainable model while maintaining its traditional quality,” Cerra wrote.

Brandt said people at the Academic Health Center hope to create a hybrid educational model for the occupational therapy program that will include online and in-person classrooms, Brandt said.

“We are pleased now that the University now recognizes there is a shortage of occupational therapists,” said Virgil Mathiowetz, director of the program in occupational therapy.

Brandt pointed out that many medical fields are experiencing shortages.

Currently the occupational therapy program has about 40 students enrolled. These students entered the program before the 2005-2006 school year.

Mamie Snoddy, a second- year occupational therapy student, said it’s an essential time to train more occupational therapists.

“Right now we are at war and the soldiers who are coming home need occupational therapists,” Snoddy said.