Allied health providers are often bemoaning how hard it is to grow their workforce. This in turn makes it very difficult to grow their business. But there is one potential solution that I believe has not been properly explored- therapy assistants. In allied health, they are usually referred to as Allied Health Assistants or AHAs. The NDIS encourages the use of AHAs and it is not hard to guess why. On an hourly basis, they are much cheaper than Allied Health Professionals (AHPs), so they can offer incredible value. In the new NDIS Price Guide, a second tier has been added to the pricing line for AHAs- Therapy Assistant Level 2. So now is a great time for providers to consider adding AHAs to their workforce.
NDIS Price Guide 2019-20
Who are allied health assistants?
AHAs work under the direct supervision of AHPs to provide therapeutic and program-related services. They usually work under occupational therapists, speech therapists or physiotherapists. AHAs study for up to one-year full time to gain a Certificate III or IV in Allied Health Assistance.
According to the NDIS Price Guide, Level 1 Therapy Assistants require direct supervision from AHPs. In contrast, Level 2 Therapy Assistants can work more independently. Importantly, therapy assistants must be covered by the professional indemnity insurance of the supervising therapist.
AHAs can offer great value in supporting group activities. They can also be useful in helping to implement programs or routines that involve frequent repetition, such as exercise programs, communication programs or training in daily living activities such as cooking.
If allied health assistants are great value for money, then why don’t we see them?
Recently, a friend of mine received an NDIS Plan for her child. It had a lot of funding in it for therapy assistants, but significantly less for allied health professionals. She was willing to give this a go, but despite extensive searching could not find any providers that offered AHA services. So why are we not seeing therapy assistants in the sector?
There are many possible answers to this question, including the fact many providers feel that it is not very profitable to supervise someone who is getting paid so little, especially if you are doing it instead of a higher paid AHP session. However, in my experience as an Allied Health provider, you can make it work. Particularly if you are strategic about the jobs you assign to AHAs and how you divide responsibilities in your workplace.
But I believe the real issue is the lack of public acceptance. If the market was demanding therapy assistants, we would be seeing them everywhere. But I would argue that the public does not know or trust AHAs in the same way they do physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, podiatrists and dieticians.
Build your workforce and your market share with Allied Health assistants
Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do you build your brand and workforce with AHAs because you see their potential and the NDIS does too, or do you wait until there is public acceptance of their role? In business, the first mover often has the advantage. So it is highly advisable to consider how you can recruit, train and market an AHA workforce.
There are TAFEs everywhere searching for businesses to host AHA students. This can be a great opportunity to train and trial AHAs.
If your business specialises in a particular area, use this to attract experienced AHAs who are keen to specialise their own skill sets.
Develop training and governance around how you believe AHAs can over value in group settings, maintenance therapy and high frequency- low skill tasks. There are some great resources online to help build the competencies of AHAs. I like the frameworks from Victoria and Queensland.
Consider how you can communicate to the public the super awesome value that AHAs canoffer NDIS Participants.
Build programs that can be implemented by AHAs, and then market these as low cost alternatives.
Slowly but surely, the AHA workforce will continue to grow. Public acceptance will develop as there is great recognition of the fact that AHAs offer Participants more choice about how they spend their funds and great are value for money. Make sure that your business does not miss out on this opportunity, or you will be playing catch up later on!