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Mercy’s Speech and Hearing Center Pivoted to Serve Students and Clients During COVID-19

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When COVID-19 hit the New York area in March, forcing schools, businesses and college campuses to close, Mercy’s Department of Communication Disorders underwent a transformation.

In addition to training future speech and language practitioners in its graduate and undergraduate programs, the campus-based Speech and Hearing Center provides treatment to community members who have problems speaking, hearing or learning to read, write or talk. Students can complete their required clinical hours by working with children and adults who visit the Center’s clinic for therapy.

“When the pandemic forced the College to close its doors to in-person classes and services, we knew we had to find an alternative quickly,” said Ashley O’Rourke, clinic director. “Not only are our students at a critical point in their training, but also the clients we serve could not afford a lengthy disruption that would undo the progress they had been making before the pandemic hit.” Their solution: move all clinical work to a virtual platform using special health care software available through Zoom Healthcare to ensure confidentiality and HIPAA compliance.

“Even with short notice and the stress of so many unknowns, everyone stepped up — the students, the supervising faculty, and the clients,” said O’Rourke. “There was no training for this. We had to be creative and practical in determining what would work and adjust as we went along.” By pivoting quickly, all students in need of clinical hours to complete their degrees had transitioned to virtual appointments by June.

“I’m incredibly proud of the students, and thankful to the faculty, the Mercy IT team, and especially my colleague, Ashley O’Rourke,” said Elizabeth Lanter, Ph.D., professor and director of the Communication Disorders Program. “Thanks to their efforts to transition the Center to telehealth in a short span of time, we’ve been able not only to help our students achieve the proficiency they will need as speech and hearing professionals, but also to continue our commitment to the many individuals and families in our community who rely on the services the Center provides.”