On the front-lines: The role of speech-language pathologists during COVID-19 pandemic

Role of speech pathologists in pandemic

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - There are so many healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 care and many of them we rarely hear about. That’s why WBRC is highlighting the men and women who risk their lives in different professions to help others.

It is a new role for speech-language pathologists and many of them may tell you when they went into the field, they never thought they would be on the front lines of a global pandemic; but, they are and what they do is helping people impacted by this deadly virus regain their lives.

The job can be up close and personal, which is extremely dangerous with highly contagious viruses like COVID.

“There’s a lot of personal protective equipment used. We actually use scopes to look at the vocal cords to make sure that the airway and voicebox are healthy,” Edie Hapner, Ph.D., SLP, Co-director UAB Voice Center said.

Speech-language pathologist Edie Hapner co-leads the UAB Voice Center. She said SLP’s evaluate and treat issues with communication, cognition and swallowing. The same issues healthcare workers are seeing in COVID-19 patients, especially those who are ventilated, according to Hapner.

SLP’s are also needed upon discharge, as some patients have post-COVID syndrome. Post-COVID syndrome is when those infected with the virus experience symptoms months after recovery, even if they were never on a ventilator.

“Fatigue, breathlessness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating,” Hapner explained.

It’s a job that’s needed now more than ever.

“Swallowing problems can be life-threatening and communication problems can be life-altering,” said Hapner.

According to Hapner, many SLP’s are also venturing into telemedicine to help continue rehab safely.

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