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Clarice Grote, MS, OTR/L

Clarice Grote, MS, OTR/L

Karen Sames – 2024 AOTA Elections President-Elect Candidate

The 2024 AOTA Elections are HERE! Voting is open from February 2nd to February 23 at 11:59am EST. (So – if you’re on Pacific time, you should probably just vote on the 22nd).

This year, I decided to do our first ever Amplify OT interview series with the candidates! I interviewed all four president-elect candidates and the two vice president candidates. This is the transcript for my interview with Karen Sames for the 2024 AOTA Elections. You can also watch/read my interview with the three other candidates at amplifyot.com/elections.

In our interviews, we discuss their perspectives on AOTA, membership, advocacy, leadership, and more. I encourage you to watch all four interviews because there are so many ways in which these candidates overlap in vision but many ways in which they differ as well. Even if you think you know who you’re going to vote for, I encourage you to listen to their different perspectives anyway. You’ll either reaffirm that you’re making the right decision, or you may find another candidate who interests you!

**Please note that Amplify OT does not endorse any specific candidate on the ballot**

If you are a member, you can vote at aota.org/elections.

Below is the transcript for my interview with Dr. Karen Sames. I have removed the intro and outro from the transcript so it just contains the interview and bio. Karen’s full bio is at the end of this article. I also added headings to indicate where questions were asked to help you navigate the large body of text.

Happy voting!

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Karen Sames Bio

[00:02:53] Clarice Grote: I’m excited to bring you this next interview with Karen Sames. Karen Sames is an author and professor emeritas in the graduate programs and the occupational therapy in the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health at St. Catherine University. Dr. Sames has served in multiple leadership positions in the American Occupational Therapy Association and the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association, including three terms as the MOTA president.

[00:03:21] She was the longtime chair of the Government Affairs Committee for MOTA, a committee she has served on in various different capacities and continuously since 1988. Dr. Sames has served as treasurer of AOTA and is a member of the AOTA Roster of Fellows. In addition, she has served AOTA as Nominations Chair, a member of the Volunteer Leadership Development Committee, and Vice-Chair of Affiliated State Association Presidents, or ASAP.

[00:03:48] She is the author of “Documenting Occupational Therapy Practice, 3rd Ed.” as well as chapters on documentation in the latest edition of Willard and Spackman’s “Occupational Therapy and The Occupational Therapy Manager.” She has given numerous local, national, and international workshops and presentations on documentation, interprofessional education, and accessibility.

[00:04:09] So without further ado, here’s Karen.

Start of Interview with Karen Sames

[00:04:12] Clarice Grote: Well, welcome, Karen, to the Amplify OT Podcast. I’m so excited that you agreed to this interview today.

[00:04:18] Karen Sames: I’m happy to be here.

[00:04:19] Clarice Grote: So I read your bio just before this, and you’ve done a lot of really impressive things, but what’s clear is that you have really dedicated your career to advocacy.

[00:04:30] Is that fair to say?

[00:04:32] Karen Sames: Absolutely.

[00:04:33] Clarice Grote: And so as being in that advocacy chair or the president for the Minnesota OT Association, what are some of the things that you’ve done with that state association?

[00:04:41] Karen Sames: Well, probably the biggest thing that I’ve done is spearhead the effort to move our licensure out of our Department of Health and into its own board of OT practice.

[00:04:55] Clarice Grote: Oh, wow.

[00:04:55] Karen Sames: And that was a huge thing for our OT Association, for the Minnesota OT Association. We were very unhappy with the way that the Department of Health was regulating our profession. And I should say that PT and many other professions all have their own boards in Minnesota.

[00:05:16] But OT and speech, and mortuary science and a couple others were regulated by the Department of Health. And some of the issues we had with the Department of Health was whenever they had access funds from licensure fees, they would take a big chunk of it and put it toward renting office space for smoking cessation programs and things like that.

[00:05:43] And that money was supposed to be dedicated to our licensure, and they could have reduced fees or something if they were collecting access. So we were unhappy about that. We were unhappy about their slowness in, following up on complaints. And we would get reports, and there was an allegation of sexual abuse against an OT practitioner that they sat on for 11 years and allowed that person to continue to practice.

[00:06:17] Clarice Grote: Oh, wow.

[00:06:18] Karen Sames: Now, that person may have been innocent, you know, we don’t know because the investigation was never really done. But it seems to me that when something that serious comes up, you know, “We don’t want to spend the money. Having your own board is going to be more expensive,” blah, blah, blah. So for that reason, and then there were some other reasons as well, we really wanted our own board.

[00:06:37] And we were told by our lobbyist that, you know, the attitude of the legislature was, “No, what we know… We don’t want to create more state agencies.” You know, “We don’t want to spend the money. Having your own board is going to be more expensive,” blah, blah, blah. And, we said, we’re going to go for it anyway.

[00:06:55] And we got the bill drafted. We arranged an OT day at the Capitol. I chaired that committee as well. And we got over 200 participants to come to the Capitol and talk to their legislators about why we needed to get out of the Department of Health, why we needed our own board, and it passed. It passed that first year.

[00:07:21] It was not a three-year process. We were lucky in some ways that our OT day at the Capitol happened the day before the hearing. [laughs] We had no way of knowing that that was going to work out so well, but it was obviously fresh in everybody’s mind. And so it passed through committee, went through three different committees, passed, and became law. So we got our own board. So to me, that was the biggest legislative… When we’ve had some others, we used to have to jump through a bunch of extra hoops. To be able to do physical agent modalities, we were able to get that removed from our licensure law years before. And now we’re working on the Licensure Compact, and we’re hopeful that we can get a hearing this year and get that passed.

[00:08:11] Clarice Grote: I feel like if you can create a whole new division for the licensure board, then I think you can get the Licensure Compact passed, hopefully, as well. [laughs] That’s definitely a big achievement. That is not an easy undertaking. And I think that’s right. The lesson from advocacy always is that it’s going to be hard, but if we don’t try, we’ll never make progress.

[00:08:29] Karen Sames: Correct. And so, we try. That’s all you can do is try. That’s right.

Why are you running for AOTA president, and why now?

[00:08:34] Clarice Grote: Exactly. Oh, I love that. That’s amazing. And I think that’s really fantastic and could be a whole other podcast episode to talk about that. But, you are here today because you are running for president-elect of AOTA, and there are three other candidates. Why are you running for president-elect or president of AOTA, and why now?

[00:08:53] Karen Sames: Why now is the really interesting part of that question. So I was AOTA treasurer, and when my term was up, I really thought I would run for president. But I got cancer, and I actually got three cancers, three different types of blood cancer. Went through… And at that point decided I can’t run. I need to put my energy into healing, and I went through chemo, went through stem cell transplant. And now two years later, I feel pretty strong and back to normal and ready to get going again. And I wondered if I had missed my chance. If that, you know, three years ago was that my one shot at being president, and now I’ve been gone too long. You know, three years since I’ve been on the board, four years. But someone I served on the board of directors with called me and said, “Karen, we could really use your leadership on the board. The association could use your calm, steady hand. Would you consider running for president?” And so I thought, well, maybe, maybe I can. Maybe I haven’t missed my chance. So here I am, excited about the possibility of taking leadership of the association that I have given so many years of my professional life to.

[00:10:22] Clarice Grote: I think that’s always amazing. I think many of our stories of how we got involved in something starts with a phone call or an ask from someone we know who encourages us to do something that we’re a little hesitant to do or didn’t think that would be a good fit. And so I love that. That’s the story for this as well.

[00:10:39] Karen Sames: Yeah, absolutely. It’s one of those things that you kind of toss around in your head, but it just takes that person to say, “You’d be good at this,” to get you to take that step.

[00:10:51] Clarice Grote: Yeah. Someone to get you out of your own head, right? We tell ourselves all sorts of stories. And so it’s nice when we have someone to kind of set the story straight for us.

[00:10:58] Karen Sames: Right.

What would be your ‘day one’ priorities as AOTA president?

[00:10:59] Clarice Grote: So what would be your day one priorities as AOTA president?

[00:11:03] Karen Sames: Well, you know, the AOTA president-elect and then president doesn’t have the same kind of authority that the US president has. We can’t, you know, write presidential orders and have them go through. So it’s a little different. But I think one of the top priorities has to be building relationships with the board, building relationships with related organizations, looking for opportunities for collaboration.

[00:11:38] I think we, you know, one of the first things I would do would be to reach out to ACOTE, to NBCOT, to AOTF, Society for Study of Occupation USA, SSO:USA, just to see where there might be some opportunities for collaboration that would help OT practitioners get better reimbursement for their services.

[00:12:01] Clarice Grote: Right.

[00:12:02] Karen Sames: And then I’d reach out to advocacy groups like NAMI, like the Brain Injury Association, like the other, you know, AARP perhaps… Other advocacy groups to say, “here are some of the things that are important to OT. And we could really use your help in advocating for this from the consumer side.” That, you know, it can’t just come from us. “So I want to,” you know, to borrow your terms “amplify OT and get more voices out there advocating for OT, in particular around reimbursement, and getting us paid for the work that we do.”

[00:12:48] I know I can speak to Minnesota, but I suspect other states have similar issues around reimbursement for mental health.

[00:12:57] Clarice Grote: Right

[00:12:58] Karen Sames: in Minnesota, we have really decent reimbursement for OT services on the physical health side. We bill using CPT codes and we get paid, you know. It’s not that great reimbursement, but we get something. But on the mental health side, we aren’t allowed to bill using our CPT codes. Minnesota reimburses mental health, behavioral health, substance use services under a different system, and they don’t allow us to use our codes. And so we don’t get much business and in that realm, and we want to be there.

[00:13:36] We have so many shortages of mental health providers. But the system is blocking us. And so I, and I suspect there are other states that have similar problems. So, really wanting to work on that. I also really want to see AOTA do more to support independent practitioners, entrepreneurs. And in the last year, I’ve seen AOTA really step up their game, in entrepreneurship. I want us to keep doing that, and to do more if we can. I want to make sure, for example, that OT is In primary care. It’s a great place for OT to practice. I can see a clear role for us, but I’m concerned that with the advent of artificial intelligence in medicine in particular, that if we aren’t in there now, then when AI produces their algorithms and and tells the physicians what to order, OT won’t be ordered. So we have got to get in there now, so that we’re in the system going forward.

[00:14:54] Clarice Grote: I think that’s a great perspective. I hadn’t even thought about that. Yes, you’re right, the automatic, you know, generated orders, or how they’re kind of progressing with those things. I think that’s a really great perspective and thought and something that I agree as we look at technology advancing, we want to be ahead of it, not behind it. And that’s a hard thing to do.

[00:15:13] Karen Sames: It is. We can do it. We need resources.

What do you believe is the primary role or mission of AOTA within our profession?

[00:15:17] Clarice Grote: Yes, absolutely. So it sounds like from some of the priorities, is it fair to say that you, in your opinion, believe one of the primary roles and missions of AOTA is connections? So building those bridges for occupational therapy and then also advocacy around reimbursement?

[00:15:34] Karen Sames: Yeah, and I would say the third, probably, prong would be education, the continuing ed, and that we continue to be, hopefully, the preferred provider of continuing ed for OT practitioner. That we want to be one of the first places they look, when they need continuing ed.

[00:15:53] Clarice Grote: And why do you think those three things are the most important over… Because, I mean, AOTA, right, serves so many purposes with occupational therapy. So out of everything that AOTA does, how come you picked those three as what you would want to focus on or as what you think the role of AOTA should be?

[00:16:11] Karen Sames: Well, I, you know, my heart’s in advocacy, and AOTA has great people working on advocacy right now. I think what we need to do is help those people out with more grassroots support for advocacy. So we need to do more outreach to our members to get them involved. To really push through some important legislation to, like I said, increase our reimbursement and, you know, get practitioners out there and getting paid for what they do.

Do you believe AOTA membership is important, and why or why not?

[00:16:48] Clarice Grote: Absolutely. I think every practitioner and OT practitioner out there can agree that they would like to definitely get paid for what they do and hopefully see an increase in reimbursement. That’s definitely been a struggle over the last few years. Now, I think I know the answer to this question, but do you believe that membership in AOTA is important?

[00:17:06] Karen Sames: Oh, membership is absolutely critical. We can’t do the things that we want to do without members. They’re our lifeblood. So certainly member recruitment is a thing. I know that, you know, we’ve seen a decline in membership, and that’s really unfortunate. And, you know, I’ve heard people say things like, “Well, APTA does such a good job with informing their members. I just follow what the PTs tell me.” Yeah. Well, that’s horrible. It’s just horrible. We need people to turn to AOTA, and so we need to do some outreach to people who used to be members and aren’t people who’ve never been members, at least not since they were students. Because I think we do a great job with student membership, but we sometimes lose them. And I know AOTA has already tried some strategies to try and keep them. We need to keep trying. I think it’s sort of a mutual thing. If people see AOTA have successes, they’re more likely to join.

[00:18:23] Clarice Grote: Yes.

[00:18:24] Karen Sames: But if they don’t join, how can we have successes? And so the membership and the services AOTA provides go hand in hand.

[00:18:36] Clarice Grote: I, as someone who runs my own membership, I completely agree that, yes, what you’re able to do greatly depends on the number of members and at times also the revenue that then comes from that.

[00:18:47] So how come you are an AOTA member? What has kept you a member over all the years of your profession or of all your practice?

[00:18:56] Karen Sames: You know, I think for me, it’s always just been a sense of responsibility. That I’m an OT, and AOTA is right now the only big organization advocating for OT on a national level. AOTA has been a terrific resource. I don’t honestly know how people can practice and not be members, how they think they’re staying current if they’re not members.

[00:19:32] Clarice Grote: Right

[00:19:33] Karen Sames: But, you know, as an educator, we always tried to instill in our students how important membership is for staying current, and you’ve got EBP resources, and you’ve got reimbursement resources.

[00:19:47] You’ve got a place to go when you hit a wall. Yeah. And so I’m hopeful that that message is getting through on many college campuses, and hopeful that this next generation will value membership. And I want to be a part of this organization that’s working on their behalf.

Workforce and Membership Concerns: How can we address this?

[00:20:12] Clarice Grote: I love to hear that. You know, I’m a big fan of AOTA myself, and so I think that’s very important. Now, we’ve kind of touched on this a little bit already, but the last workforce study done by AOTA showed that 25 percent of practitioners are considering leaving the field of occupational therapy, and there is also a 7 percent drop in membership this year with AOTA. Do you think that these two issues are related and how do you think we should address this problem?

[00:20:45] Karen Sames: Yeah, I think they’re related. I think, you know, if you leave, people leave the profession, they’re going to leave the association. So I think they’re related. It is really disheartening to hear 25 percent are contemplating leaving the profession.

[00:21:02] Although, you know, we’ve been through this before. We went through a big drop in membership with lots of people leaving the profession back in 1998, ’99, 2000, when Medicare reimbursement changed and the profession took a big hit. And we’ve come back from that. So some of it is cyclical, right?

[00:21:25] The pendulum kind of swings in both directions. But OT is not alone in seeing people contemplate leaving. A lot of the health professions are seeing that – nursing, physicians – people are unhappy right now with healthcare and reimbursement. So, you know, the pressure for productivity is gotten to be ridiculous in some instances, unattainable.

[00:21:54] And so again, I think the more we can do to help practitioners, you know. We can’t tell employers what to do, but we can sure tackle it from an ethical standpoint. We can encourage practitioners to be more, you know, efficient, give them tools. We can help practitioners learn to advocate for themselves in those situations, and we can collaborate with other organizations in trying to shift the system, to push the system, so that it’s not so heavily dependent on productivity.

[00:22:45] Clarice Grote: Right.

[00:22:45] Karen Sames: And then we need to help practitioners see that there are opportunities to practice OT in non-medical settings. Yes, I know all about that. Medicare, Medicaid, you know, there are other places we can work, other ways we can be of service.

[00:23:02] Clarice Grote: Absolutely. I think our skillsets as occupational therapy practitioners is so broad yet comprehensive that I think there’s a lot of opportunities. And what you said there especially around the productivity issue, right, which is one thing that we know is definitely a major problem and cause of burnout around that.

[00:23:22] You know, when you stated earlier around getting more folks involved in grassroots advocacy around focusing on connection and community building, I think that falls in line right with that productivity issue. The message seems to be continuous throughout.

[00:23:36] Karen Sames: Absolutely. I mean, everything is connected, right?

[00:23:39] Clarice Grote: Yes. [laughs] Like we were saying, the world of OT is small, and so everything kind of feeds into something else, especially in health care.

[00:23:46] Karen Sames: Yeah. And again, I would like to see us expand beyond health care. Yeah. You know, some people see us as the best kept secret in health care. Well, no, first of all, we shouldn’t be secret. We need more people to know what OT is and what OT does. And then I think more doors will open, more places will want to hire people with our skillset.

[00:24:09] OT is a way of thinking, right? Because when you get trained as an OT, you start seeing the world a little differently and you never lose that lens. So, you know, I’d love to see more OTs in policymaking positions. There should be more OTs working in insurance companies and state government. You know, OTs working for tech companies. You know, OTs working, designing toys. You know, I can’t imagine an employer who wouldn’t want someone with the skillset of an OT.

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in volunteering or leadership?

[00:24:49] Clarice Grote: Yeah. I agree. I completely agree. So what advice would you give to someone who may be interested in volunteering or taking on a leadership role, like running for AOTA board or for their state association?

[00:25:03] Karen Sames: I’d say definitely start at your state association, and that was where I got my start. And it was such a great learning experience. You know, ‘think global, act local’ is kind of the saying that I hear. And so starting with your state association, get involved in advocacy, learning how to get legislation introduced and enacted at the state level really helps in understanding it at the national level.

[00:25:36] And as an individual, I think you can have more influence at the state level. And so get involved that way. You know, start small. Start volunteering to review submissions for your state conference or for the AOTA conference. Start as a conference reviewer. Volunteer, you know, to be on a conference committee. Volunteer to help out with the state OT day at the capitol events, get involved writing letters, just take a baby step. Every single thing helps.

[00:26:18] Clarice Grote: Yeah.

[00:26:18] Karen Sames: It helps the organization. It helps the profession. So start small, you know, and work your way up. And try a leadership role, try chairing a committee, try being vice president, president, and get that experience. It’s fun. You meet people, you know. My years as state president of Minnesota, I made friends in all 50 states, you know, just getting to know other people and sharing ideas. Fabulous experience.

[00:26:56] Clarice Grote: Yeah. And that’s that’s where I started too, right? I was getting involved in my state association. That was a big part of learning the advocacy process and how it works. And it’s been interesting starting over in a new state.

[00:27:08] Karen Sames: Yep. There are similarities, but there are definitely differences from state to state.

[00:27:13] Clarice Grote: Yes. Some pretty significant differences. So it’s always interesting how those work. Well, to wrap things up, of course, I think this is an obvious question. Why should someone vote for you, Karen?

Why should someone vote for Karen Sames?

[00:27:24] Karen Sames: Well, I think people should vote for me because I am a proven leader. Years and years of leadership experience.

[00:27:33] I am calm, I am thoughtful, I’m a very good listener, I want to hear what other people have to say and incorporate that in. I love this profession, and I have since third grade when I first learned about OT. And I have thoroughly enjoyed being an OT. And so if you want someone who loves the profession, is dedicated to the profession, is a collaborator, a team builder, someone who’s respectful, then you’ll vote for me.

[00:28:11] Clarice Grote: That’s a good pitch. Well, thank you so much, Karen. I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for running for AOTA president-elect. It’s nice to see some competition this year.

[00:28:23] Karen Sames: Yeah, it really is. I think that’s a good sign. And thank you so much for doing this, to offer these podcasts to your listeners. And, I hope everybody goes out and votes.

[00:28:35] Clarice Grote: Yes. Go out and vote.

[00:28:37] Karen Sames: Especially for me.

[00:28:38] Clarice Grote: Yes. I love that. Gotta throw a little self-promotion there at the end.

[00:28:43] Karen Sames: Yes.

[00:28:45] Clarice Grote: Thank you so much, Karen.

[00:28:47] Karen Sames: All right. Thank you Clarice.


Thanks for reading! Watch all the candidate interviews at Amplifyot.com/elections and continue the conversation at learn.amplifyot.com.

Become an OT Amplifier! you should feel good about what you do. Emerge a confident clinician who knows their value. Join the Amplify OT Membership Today. Image shows 5 screens with previews of the Amplify OT membership courses and groups.

About Karen Sames, OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Karen M Sames OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA is an author and Professor Emerita in the graduate programs in occupational therapy in the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health at St. Catherine University.  Dr. Sames has served in the in multiple leadership positions in the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA) including three terms as MOTA President. She was the longtime chair of the Government Affairs Committee for MOTA, a committee she has served on in various capacities continuously since 1988.

 Dr. Sames has served as Treasurer of AOTA and is a member of the AOTA Roster of Fellows.  In addition, she has served AOTA as Nominations Chair, a member of the Volunteer Leadership Development Committee, and Vice-Chair of Affiliated State Association Presidents. She is the author of Documenting Occupational Therapy Practice, 3rd ed. as well as chapters on documentation in the latest edition of Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy and The Occupational Therapy Manager. She has given numerous local, national, and international workshops and presentations on documentation, interprofessional education, and accessibility.

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I’m  Clarice

Occupational therapist & medicare specialist helping practitioners understand policy, engage in advocacy, and own their value!

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