College clinical outreach programs persist in face of pandemic
BY JOSH FRIESEN
Dr. Christy Goodman was scrambling.
It was mid-March, and updates about COVID-19 had been becoming more urgent and dire as the disease breached Ohio’s borders. Then, Goodman and the rest of the faculty and staff at the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic were told university facilities, including theirs in Pressey Hall, were closing.
“It all happened very quickly,” said Goodman, an audiology clinical supervisor who specializes in hearing aid technology repair. “Nobody knew where this was going or how long we’d be shut down. I was gathering notebooks and my laptop and everything I thought I would need to at least continue classes with students online.”
While Goodman and other personnel rushed belongings into their cars, she noticed patients with emergency hearing aid problems continue to approach the clinic. After she finished loading up what she could, she went back inside to tend to their needs. But, she thought, how would these people be cared for when the doors closed?
“I realized I needed to put many more things in my vehicle,” she quipped.
In the days and weeks that followed, Ohio State faculty and staff worked from home, and Goodman was no exception. She took everything she needed to continue performing hearing aid repairs from the clinic and moved her workshop into her basement.
It wasn’t long before Goodman had a system down. With help from Arts and Sciences Technology Services and Ohio State Mail Services, she began having her patients ship their hearing aids to her home. She’d bring them into her makeshift basement workspace, make the necessary repair and ship them back out. Sometimes, she’d deliver the devices to their owners herself as they waited in their cars in her driveway.
In all, Goodman conducted about 140 hearing aid maintenance sessions between the time the clinic closed and when it reopened in mid-June.
“There were a lot of people in need during this time, and it felt more desperate than usual because of how much new information was coming and how different communication was becoming,” she said. “It was very rewarding to be able to help them.”
Goodman’s story and her ability to adapt in the face of extraordinary circumstances epitomizes how the College of Arts and Sciences community responded to the pandemic. Faculty learned how to move their classes online, students had to navigate the obstacles of learning virtually, and staff pivoted their efforts to facilitate and assist these endeavors.
The college’s clinical outreach programs — which include the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science and the Psychological Services Center in the Department of Psychology — had a unique challenge.
Their services aren’t limited to just the Ohio State community. Their clientele hail from across central Ohio, and it was important for the clinics to remain accessible.
“Faculty, staff and students have had to be really flexible and resilient in ways we haven’t been,” said Gail Whitelaw, director of the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic. “And that’s particularly true in a clinical education program or a program that provides community services.”
The Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic provides a variety of services for patients of all ages who have hearing, articulation, language, voice or fluency disorders. It sports a pair of specialty programs: the Aphasia Initiative, which offers structured sessions for people living with aphasia, a condition that causes the loss of ability to understand and express speech, and the Flaum Fluency Program, which was established by psychology alumnus and former stutterer Sander Flaum.
The Psychological Services Center (PSC) provides evidence-based psychological treatment for a variety of issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders and substance abuse. The PSC houses the Behavioral Medicine Clinic, Cognitive Behavior Therapy Clinic and Mindfulness Clinic.
The services provided by the clinical outreach programs are free to anyone, and though they are directed by faculty, the sessions themselves are led by graduate and doctoral students.
“For people who are so young and early in their careers, they are fantastic and committed, and it’s so well received,” Whitelaw said. “It’s not just the clinical teaching, but it’s the modeling of professionalism and the understanding of what the patients’ needs are and how to deliver patient-centered care.”
“Our introduction to clinical work involves an in-house, PSC-based practicum where students get some of the most intensive supervision they’re likely to get in their graduate school career,” said professor of psychology Dan Strunk, who was the PSC’s co-director last year. “That provides a really solid foundation as they move on and learn more in different clinical contexts.”
When COVID-19 caused Ohio State to close its doors, clinical outreach programs rapidly adjusted to continue offering services. The Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic bolstered its virtual capabilities over the phone and through Zoom. The PSC began conducting teletherapy sessions. With the help of Arts and Sciences Technology Services and the ingenuity and zeal of faculty, staff and students, service stoppages were brief.
“We provide this service for the community that cannot stop because we serve very vulnerable people,” said Jennifer Brello, director of the Aphasia Initiative, adding that her students delivered messages of encouragement and facemasks to their clients in the community. “I’m just so proud of everyone that worked so hard to keep the program going.”
“The students are extraordinarily committed to their clients and to providing services, so they did what they needed to do,” said professor of psychology Jennifer Cheavens, last year’s other PSC co-director.
As campus begins slowly and carefully reopening in accordance with federal and state guidelines, so too are the college’s clinical outreach programs. The Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic resumed its audiology services in late June with robust health and safety measures in place. The PSC is preparing to resume in-person sessions that incorporate mask-wearing and therapy rooms large enough to accommodate social distancing.
But even when society has moved on completely from the coronavirus, many of the telehealth measures the programs implemented will remain. Both clinics plan to continue offering virtual services to better serve and accommodate their communities.
“We found that it really makes it easier for clients to be able to attend sessions from home,” said clinical assistant professor of psychology and PSC Director Anne Wilson. “There are less missed sessions and fewer cancellations because it’s just really convenient to hop on a teletherapy appointment.”
“When this is over and we’re back to normal, we are very much going to keep a virtual aspect to our program,” Brello said. “There have been a lot of benefits to having to respond to a situation like this. We’ve streamlined some of our procedures involving paperwork and how we share information, and we’re seeing we’re reaching so many more people.”