Ethan Bayne Jenna Bayne
Published July 27, 2020
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf made the decision in early March to shut down schools across the state for the remainder of the year. These orders also caused many private practices to shut their doors; I am a speech language pathologist (SLP) working at a private practice that ended in-patient services for the foreseeable future. These decisions and the downstream effects will have a significant impact on young Pennsylvanians not only during the COVID-19 crisis, but in the years to come. Governor Wolf’s diligence in removing barriers preventing the effective implementation of teletherapy during this pandemic should be lauded for its ability to reduce extended lapses in speech therapy services. Nonetheless, a lot can still be done to improve upon this delivery method for effective use post-crisis.
During the national emergency states have joined professional organizations, like the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, in endorsing teletherapy as an acceptable alternative service delivery method for speech and language services. Many states have also taken measures to remove significant barriers thwarting the delivery of telehealth, these reforms are useful in improving services provided to clients both in educational and medical settings.
North Carolina, Texas and West Virginia temporarily expanded scope of practice laws for SLP assistants or provisional licensees by waiving licensure requirements needed to provide telepractice services.
Other states like Idaho, Iowa and Massachusetts aim to improve access to teletherapy services through the removal of barriers that required an in-person assessment, or an established provider-patient relationship, prior to the start of teletherapy sessions.
All of these measures are important steps that will allow SLPs to continue providing services to clients during the crisis; however, these policy changes are temporary in nature and are likely to be rescinded.
One of the more frequently recognized advantages of teletherapy is improved access to services. In other words, it provides students the opportunity to receive services that would not typically be available to them due to a lack of specialists in a geographic area, lack of transportation, or their distance from schools. Access to services will always to be a barrier for young Pennsylvanians seeking speech therapy services, especially for those in rural areas. Teletherapy is the most feasible way to provide services to these students, and this is a great example of why Pennsylvania should explore ways to expand and improve upon this service delivery method moving forward.
During this transition, my caseload has seen a drop from thirty-nine students to twenty-four; in large part, this is because families lack the proper technology for speech teletherapy sessions. Appropriating funding for teletherapy technology will not only have immediate benefits for these vulnerable populations, but it will also aid school districts in providing services after the crisis. Specifically, the technology can be utilized to eliminate the need for snow days, or for providing services to medically fragile individuals that have difficulties attending school consistently.
In speaking with my colleagues, I echo their sentiments that when we can safely return to school, some students will continue to need in person interactions to excel in their treatment. Teletherapy is not an appropriate long-term substitute for specific populations, like the students that need hand over hand support for learning and motivation, or the ones that are unable to distinguish between technology as a toy and technology as a method of instruction.
That being said, teletherapy is an ideal alternative for specific populations, and taking full advantage of this service delivery method would allow SLPs to provide services to more individuals in need. School districts, private practices, and SLPs must collaborate to identify the students that could continue receiving services through teletherapy once school is back in session. Pennsylvanians should work together to find ways to maximize the benefits of teletherapy and continue to employ it as a regular service delivery method after the pandemic.
Ethan Bayne is a legislative research analyst with the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at Saint Francis University. He received an MA in social and public policy from Duquesne University and a BA in political science and psychology from Thiel College.
Jenna Bayne is a speech language pathologist with Blair Therapies. She received her MS degree in speech and language pathology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her BA in communications sciences and disorders from Thiel College.