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Published July 07, 2020
As the University of Wyoming plans to welcome back students to campus this fall, a top priority for the university’s restart is the health and safety of students, staff and faculty.
The UW Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic, part of the Division of Communication Disorders, located in the College of Health Sciences, reopened its doors to patients in late June. The clinic has implemented a strategic plan of safety guidelines aimed at preventing clinic staff and patients from possible exposure to the coronavirus responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Teresa Garcia, supervisor of clinical services in audiology, says steps are taken before seeing each patient to protect against contact infections.
“Before each patient and in between all patients, the waiting room area and testing booth area are cleaned and wiped down with a sanitizing spray,” Garcia says. “Surfaces that are difficult to clean or that may be affected by the repeated use of a sanitizing spray are covered in a barrier film.”
While entry to most UW campus buildings is still restricted to faculty, staff and students, patient access to the clinic is scheduled so that clinic staff can meet each patient outside at the time of his or her appointment, and then escort that patient along with a caregiver inside, so only one group is inside the clinic at that time.
Heather Malek, a senior office associate, serves as the receptionist for the clinic and, in most cases, is the first contact for patients entering the facility.
“Patients are asked to call when they get into the parking lot so that Heather may let them into the building. This ensures there are no other patients in the front office area and to limit the amount of time they are in the building waiting,” Garcia says. “All patients and accompanying caregivers are required to wear a face covering the entire time they are in the clinic, just as the reception staff and myself also wear a mask whenever there is face-to-face interactions. We also have placed a Plexiglas barrier around our front desk area to help ensure safety.”
Garcia points out that patients returning to the clinic have expressed their appreciation for the extra precautions taken by clinic staff to ensure safety.
“Our patients are very pleased to have us open again, and most appreciate that we are taking extra precautions to limit exposure with things like wearing masks,” she says. “They also appreciate that they are the only people in the front office area besides Heather and myself. We also offer to come out to their car to do things like pick up hearing aids that need to be repaired so that they do not need to come into the office area.”
Since reopening, the clinic reports seeing 63 audiology patients.
Like many health care facilities around Wyoming, the UW Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic uses telehealth for certain patient/provider interactions. However, as Garcia explains, “certain hearing tests still need to be done with the patient in the testing booth using calibrated equipment.”
While no UW speech-language pathology students are currently working in the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic on campus, 36 graduate students have received enriched telepractice training this summer from the clinic faculty and at clinical sites around the state and region. The division began intensive telepractice training last summer at the Maggie Scarlett Summer Speaker Series, and the division has made telepractice a priority over the last several years.
“Our graduate clinicians are ready for this,” says Mark Guiberson, director of the UW Division of Communication Disorders. “With our students fully immersed in providing telepractice services this summer and this coming fall, it means we are reaching patients, clients, students and families who otherwise would not be getting any speech-language services.”
Currently, there are 27 patients enrolled in the summer Speech and Language Telepractice Clinic. Some 207 sessions have been completed, with 366 sessions remaining.
“With the clinic having been open for only a few weeks, every available appointment time has been filled and is filled for the next two weeks,” Garcia says. “However, we are seeing fewer patients in our day due to scheduling patients further apart to allow time for cleaning and air exchange in the front office and booth.”
To arrange an audiology appointment, call (307) 766-6426 or email SHClinic@uwyo.edu.