Talking About the Economy: In ASHA Surveys, Members Weigh In What impact is the economic decline having on your professional and personal life? Across ASHA’s broad professional swath—spanning two professions, a wide range of work settings, and patients and clients of all ages from every geographical niche and socioeconomic level—members are sharing what’s happening in their lives. In recent months, ... ASHA News
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ASHA News  |   June 01, 2009
Talking About the Economy: In ASHA Surveys, Members Weigh In
Author Notes
  • Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at mmoore@asha.org.
    Marat Moore, managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at mmoore@asha.org.×
Article Information
Practice Management / ASHA News & Member Stories / ASHA News
ASHA News   |   June 01, 2009
Talking About the Economy: In ASHA Surveys, Members Weigh In
The ASHA Leader, June 2009, Vol. 14, 1-7. doi:10.1044/leader.AN1.14082009.1
The ASHA Leader, June 2009, Vol. 14, 1-7. doi:10.1044/leader.AN1.14082009.1
What impact is the economic decline having on your professional and personal life? Across ASHA’s broad professional swath—spanning two professions, a wide range of work settings, and patients and clients of all ages from every geographical niche and socioeconomic level—members are sharing what’s happening in their lives.
In recent months, ASHA has been actively gathering data from members with a goal of finding ways to help you meet the challenges and uncertainties that define this economic period. The data to date are mixed—most survey respondents feel their jobs are secure, but some are feeling the pinch. With the economy still in flux, the picture for the entire ASHA membership is not yet clear.
The Long-term View
First, the historical perspective. The recession that officially began in December 2007 (National Bureau of Economic Research) followed a decade of strong growth in communication sciences and disorders (CSD). According to data collected by ASHA for omnibus and salary surveys from 1999 through 2008, salaries for CSD professionals made gains that outpaced inflation. Salaries for full-time audiologists rose 65.9%, from $44,000 in 1999 to $73,000 in 2008. Speech-language pathologists in school settings (who work 9–10 months per year) saw their salaries rise 45% for the same period, from $40,000 to $58,000. Data aren’t available for the 2008 salaries of SLPs in health care settings, but their paychecks grew 44.4% from 1999 to 2007, from $45,000 to $65,000.
Professional supply and demand continue to affect clinicians’ economic prospects. ASHA’s survey staff has gathered data over the last six years on professional shortages. In three surveys—of audiologists (2008), SLPs in health care (2007), and SLPs in school settings (2008)—data show that the highest shortages, not surprisingly, are for school-based SLPs, with 72% of respondents in the school survey reporting that vacancies exceeded the number of job-seekers.
Second are SLPs in health care settings, with 59% reporting that demand for clinicians exceeded the number of applicants. In audiology, respondents reported a near-equal balance, with 30% noting that openings exceeded the number of applicants, 36% reporting that openings nearly matched the number of job-seekers, and 34% stating that job-seekers outnumbered available jobs.
The big picture also includes the federal government. Although much is still unknown about when a recovery will begin—whether, for example, this recession is a “V-shaped” or “W-shaped” downturn—the huge infusion of federal stimulus money will benefit schools, health care settings, and research (see The ASHA Leader, May 5). Schools (kindergarten through college) will receive $98 billion, and more than $87 billion will boost health care and research activities.
Impact on Members
Early this year, ASHA’s Board of Directors decided to field surveys to find out how the recession is affecting members personally and professionally, and to learn what members might need in terms of services and resources.
To date, three groups of members have been surveyed: 101 members of ASHA’s two Advisory Councils, the Audiology Advisory Council (AAC) and the Speech-Language Pathology Advisory Council (SLPAC); a random sample of all ASHA-certified audiologists; and 486 SLPs at the 2009 Health Care/Business Institute (HC/BI). Surveys of school-based and academic members will be fielded early this summer.
The data below reflect responses by all three groups.
Professional Spending
  • 49% of the AAC respondents and 41% of respondents in the broader audiology survey said they were reducing their professional spending “by a little.”

  • 54% of SLPAC respondents said they planned to reduce professional spending “by a little,” compared to 47% of speech-language pathology respondents from the HC/BI.

  • 33% of AAC respondents and 24% of respondents in the broader audiology survey said they planned to reduce professional spending “by a lot”—but 25% of the audiologists in the broader survey said they were not reducing 2009 spending at all.

  • 32% of SLPAC survey respondents said they planned to reduce professional spending “by a lot.” Among health care SLPs who attended the HC/BI, 22% said they planned to reduce 2009 spending “by a lot”—but a higher percentage of those respondents (24%) said they did not plan to reduce professional spending at all in 2009.

Employer Spending
  • 58% of AAC respondents noted that their employers planned to reduce 2009 spending “by a lot,” compared with 43% of respondents in the broader audiology survey.

  • 50% of the SLPAC respondents also said that their employers planned to cut 2009 spending “by a lot,” compared to 40% of the HC/BI participants.

Workforce Issues
The surveys also asked about undesired changes that members have experienced in the last 12 months. Below are the top issues for respondents from each profession:
  • Increase in caseload/workload/productivity is the biggest change for SLPs, noted by 38% of SLPs who responded to the HC/BI survey and 19% of the SLPAC respondents.

  • Reduction in the number of hearing aids sold tops the list of undesirable changes for respondents to the broader audiology survey, followed by reduction in salary or benefits (without change in hours) and increase in non-billable time for audiology services.

More than half of all respondents from the three surveys say that despite the economic problems, they are not worried about losing their jobs or practices. But survey data indicate that many open positions in both professions are not being filled—a fact reflected in the drop of classified advertising in The ASHA Leader.
Spending issues are paramount; 51% of AAC and 69% of SLPAC respondents stated their belief that the economy “will probably get worse before it gets better, so I have made no significant spending plans this year.”
What’s Needed Now
ASHA asked respondents to identify resources that would help them weather the recession. Members listed the following:
  • Resources and advocacy tools that help better explain the professions to consumers and patients

  • Patient diagnostic or assessment tools (discounts off publisher list price, etc.)

  • Tools to help improve billing practices (CEU program on Medicare enrollment for SLPs in private practice, etc.)

  • Opportunities to share experiences with colleagues regarding current situations/strategies (member forums, Facebook site, division listservs, etc.)

  • Stress management resources

  • Career management resources (information about switching to practice in a different setting, etc.)

Survey respondents also gave long and detailed comments about what they need now—at the top of the list are accessible CEUs and information on reimbursement that will help with billing and coding. ASHA will strive to provide these resources and support members until the U.S. economy is back on track.
Members Speak Out on the Economy

The statements below were culled from member comments on ASHA surveys that gathered data on the effects of the recession and from e-mails to ASHA.

“The public schools have taken a significant hit economically. They are being forced to provide the same level of service to “clients,” but with far less resources, including personnel.”

“Business owners like me have seen some reduction in caseloads, but we are very lucky in comparison to most and count our blessings as we brush up on our marketing skills.”

“In Alaska, the recession is catching up to us…Local boroughs are starting hiring freezes and service cutbacks. We are concerned about education funding being cut and loss of contractual benefits for school-based employees. …With no roads and the increased cost of airfare, some providers are being limited on how many times they can fly to rural communities, thus limiting therapy services…”

“Insurance plans are a major issue in private practice—with less money available for speech therapy. In my area, if you don’t take insurance, private pay is not much of an option. Families are financially struggling and often the first thing to go is therapy if they pay out of pocket.”

“I was working per diem full-time at a rural facility … my hours were drastically cut and I was replaced by a very new SLP. I decided to open my own private practice with a colleague. We have been open for three weeks and are are getting an ever-increasing caseload in our private practice setting. I am very happy with the change, and believe prosperity can be found by many.”

“In California, we’re facing huge new reductions for the fiscal year starting July 1…already Medicaid has eliminated nine adult services including speech and audiology. Thousands of school positions, including teachers and nurses, are being cut, and school-based SLPs who are eligible for retirement are taking early-out packages and not being replaced.”

Tools for Tough Times

ASHA Web resources on targeted topics that may be useful in navigating the recession include CE course search.

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June 2009
Volume 14, Issue 8