By Nick Worth
Dr. Jeff Meeks of Holbrook was honored at the Arizona Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ArSHA) convention April 12 in Tucson with the Honors of the Association, an achievement award which is only rarely given.
“This is the highest honor a speech or hearing professional can receive in the state,” Meeks wrote in an email to Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Linda Morrow.
Meeks is in charge of HR and the Special Services Consortium (SSC) for Navajo County. The SSC provides therapy services of all kinds to schools throughout the county and Meeks works directly for Morrow.
“I’m not a county employee, but we are under her office,” Meeks said. “Linda has statutory power to create a consortium. I’m also the HR director for the education services agency.
The SSC serves 26 school districts in Navajo and Apache counties, and one in Coconino County.
The consortium has been around for 25 years.
“We started out serving just Navajo County, but as we became more successful we had other districts in Apache County ask if they could join,” Meeks said. “We’ve been pretty successful.”
The concept behind the consortium is that most rural school districts are fairly small and don’t have enough students with special needs to justify hiring a full-time person. Consortium therapists travel to several districts each day to provide services.
In addition to speech-language and hearing pathologists, both physical and occupational therapists work for the consortium.
“Much of my time is spent recruiting speech-language and hearing pathologists,” Meeks said. “It’s hard to find people that want to live and work in remote rural areas.”
Speaking about his Honors of the Association award, Meeks explained ArSHA’s purpose and activities.
“We are the professional association which represents speech-language and hearing pathologists in Arizona,” said Meeks. “We currently have about 200 members in the state association, but we also represent non-members as well.”
He noted there are about 2,000 speech-language and hearing pathologists in the state.
“So about 10 percent are members,” said Meeks.
According to Meeks, ArSHA’s activities include lobbying, participating and working with government agencies to ensure quality services.
“We serve the entire age continuum from birth to the elderly, and working with people who have had strokes or injuries that require services from speech pathologists and audiologists,” Meeks said.
He had been president of the ArSHA executive board for the last four years.
“We also provide continuing education to members and non-members alike,” said Meeks. “We put on a two-day convention every year in which we bring in national speakers.”
He said his day to day activities for ArSHA involve more of the political action aspect. He stays on top of issues in the state which could affect the membership and non-members in the therapist community. Meeks also acts as liaison with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
“We try to make sure various government agencies are considering the impacts proposed changes may have on the professions we represent, as well as the consumers,” said Meeks. He cited as an example that the Arizona State Department of Education was proposing changes to special education teacher certification which would have allowed those teachers to work with speech-language impaired children, instead of requiring the services of a pathologist.
“We met with them and made them aware of the issue, and they removed that language,” Meeks said.
“We’re there to remind them and say ‘Have you thought about…?’” he said. “It’s a very cordial process. We’ve been able to collaborate very well with those agencies, the state senators and the state education officials.”
There are currently only about eight people living who have received the Honors of the Association.
The award can be given annually, and the honors committee consists of people who have received the award in the past. There are currently five people on the selection committee.
Many years the award is not given if the people who are nominated do not meet the criteria.
Criteria for receiving the award are not only serving the state association in some capacity, but also serving the profession on the national level.
Other criteria include publishing research contributing knowledge needed by the profession, teaching in communication science and disorders, clinical service to adults or children with communicative disorders, and service to ASHA or other professional national, state, regional or local organizations.
Nominees are also expected to participate in the education process. Meeks noted that he is an adjunct faculty member at Northern Arizona University.
“It’s really a big picture of service to the profession as a whole, as well as to the state association,” he said.
The award came as a complete surprise to Meeks, who was unaware his coworkers and colleagues had nominated him.
“I happened to be up on the stage conducting the business meeting and they started reading the nomination letters, substituting ‘the nominee’ for my name,” he said. “As they kept going I realized they were talking about me.”
He said his nomination letters came from combined members of the ArSHA board, colleagues at NAU and a large group of the Navajo County SSC speech-language pathologists (SLPs). He was given the letters as a memento of receiving the award.
Meeks noted that while the award means a lot to him, it has a deeper significance.
“It’s not so much the idea of being honored as the affirmation that I’m doing a good job and making a difference,” Meeks said. “It’s special and I appreciate it. It’s humbling, but I appreciate that affirmation from my colleagues.
“Ultimately our goal is to look out for what is best for Arizonans,” Meeks said.
By Nick Worth