When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Salus Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) students, much like university students nationwide, began courses online to adhere to quarantine parameters.

One of the many advantages a new Salus graduate has over peers from other institutions is early and continual exposure to the clinical side of his/her profession during their days as a student. Early clinical experience includes work in the University’s on-campus clinical facility, the Speech-Language Institute (SLI), starting in the first year of their program. Speech Language Institute door sign

However, the public health emergency resulted in the closure of the Speech-Language Institute to ensure the protection of clients, students, providers, and staff, leaving clients without services and students without clinical exposure.  

Though the clinics remain closed, SLI is now starting telepractice services to accommodate clients as well as afford students clinical experiences.

SLI started telepractice services last summer. As a pilot, one student was selected to work with one adult client and a clinical educator to begin the process of building a program at SLI. “We interviewed several vendors and selected a telepresence platform, developed policies and procedures and created a handbook, as part of this initial phase,” said Robert Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP, SLP chair and program director. “It expanded to a few students and their clients in the fall, again with just one supervisor. All of the initial clients were adults, because of the experience of the supervisor, so the program set out to recruit and hire a pediatric telepractice specialist, who started this past spring semester, to begin to build the online services for children.”  

However, the pandemic happened, the clinical facilities closed, and faculty and students were sent home. SLI immediately began to train all of its supervisors on telepractice, with the assistance of the two telepractice specialists and those who were using telepractice for other jobs outside of the university. SLI is set to launch their entire cohort, 36 students with 24 faculty and clinical educators, to provide care to over 50 clients, and supervise graduate students virtually.

Evidence has shown telepractice services across almost all areas of clinical practice are as effective as more traditional face-to-face services. The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) adopted the term telepractice rather than the frequently used terms telemedicine or telehealth to avoid the misperception that these services are used only in healthcare settings. Given the needs of the students to obtain a diverse experience across the lifespan, all services are being offered via telepractice - speech, language, cognition, voice, swallowing, and augmentative communication, among others. 

“We intend to continue to provide individual and group sessions, including popular support groups like the aphasia group and the transgender voice group. We also hSpeech Therapist at computerave continued to provide services to our preschools - our clinical educator hosts a daily 30-minute activity with our three to four year olds,” said Serianni.

“The process is rather simple,” he explained. “First, a client verifies that they have the requisite technology to support telepractice (computer/tablet/phone, internet capabilities) and a person to assist the client in their home, known as an e-helper. A recurring appointment is scheduled (i.e. Tuesdays at 2 p.m.). The clinic will send a link to the session. At the appointed time, the client with their e-helper, the grad student and the supervisor all sign in and the session happens remotely. It looks a lot like a Zoom or WebEx call, with additional features built into the system, like a white board, to write notes and directions, a variety of games and worksheets, and other motivational activities. YouTube videos and online books are usually embedded into the sessions for therapy materials.”

All students will have at least two clients this summer in the online format. This will allow them to continue to learn in a clinical environment, and the community will continue to be provided the care they require, to address their communication deficits.

For more information, please contact the Speech-Language Institute or call 215.780.3150.