Innovating our way through this pandemic

Like many organizations, we had high hopes for the year 2020.  We were all geared up with all of our four branches fully functional and ready.  We beefed up our team with new and highly qualified therapists in anticipation of the influx of new students.  And it seemed to be so as we saw great progress in the first two months of the year.  In fact, the month of February recorded the highest number of sessions in our history. The trend is usually upward leading toward summer when we are at our peak.  We were so excited about summer.  Then came COVID 19.  

When the lockdown was announced in mid-March 2020, it was like getting punched by Manny Pacquiao with his signature left hook.  We got knocked out cold.  For a month, we just went with the motion, trying to make sense of what is happening.  Many of our teachers took the time to learn new things.  I saw a lot of them tried sewing, baking and TikTok.  After all, a one-month long lockdown is bearable.  But when it got extended, we knew we had to adapt.  

Before the lockdown, we were only offering one type of service delivery mode which is the In-Person Therapy.  When the lockdown was announced, that type of mode was drastically not feasible.    

At first, we offered Individualized Home Programs (IHP) to our existing clients.  This is different from the Home Programs we were issuing before, which we discontinued.   IHP is really tailored fit for the intended student.  Our teachers carefully handpick appropriate activities depending on the status and goals for the child.  Though each IHP is designed for two sessions, but parents who availed of the service can implement the program without restrictions on the number of times they can do the tasks in a week.  

We then focused our attention to Teletherapy.  Teletherapy has been in people’s minds many years ago but never really took off locally.  For it to take off, professional associations such as PAOT and PASP should set guidelines first on how to implement it.  Because of this pandemic, therapists are forced to look into this option and as a result, these professional organizations quickly huddled and wrote the implementing guidelines for their members to follow.  Teacher Weng was part of the ad hoc committee in creating the Guidelines for Speech-Language Pathology practice during the COVID19 pandemic.  It took us a little bit of time to start offering it to our clients because we needed to make sure our therapists know how to do it and the system must be in place.

Teletherapy is new to everyone.  It is new to the therapists as well as to the parents.  We are offering two types: home-based and center-based.  Home-based is when the student is at home provided their Internet connection is strong and stable.  Center-based on the other hand, caters to those clients with weak Internet connection at home and parents can bring their child to an accredited center with all the necessary equipment for Teletherapy and assisted by a trained eHelper.  

We approached this new mode the same way we always do every time we introduce something new.  It is in our system that with anything new, we need to include first an orientation before doing actual Teletherapy.  In Trails, when we conduct Teletherapy, our therapists would submit a proposal indicating the plans and goals in the coming sessions.  We then require both the parent and the therapist to do a practice session to really introduce the student as well as the parent to the new mode.  It’s like doing a test drive before buying the car.  These are additional steps but these gave more confidence to the parents in doing Teletherapy.    

When the lockdown was finally eased out after three months, we reopened our branches with all the infection prevention and control protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety.  Foot bath on the entrance, thermal scanner, social distancing, face masks and face shields on all our therapists, limited capacity, etc. are all in place.  The matrix below shows what service delivery mode would be perfect for a particular client.

What used to be just one service delivery mode, now our clients can choose any of these four modes.   We have to be transparent to our clients that not all service delivery modes have the same effectivity.  It is not that they are miles apart but still we have to be clear with the difference.  After a month of doing these different modes, our therapists as well as the parents can attest that nothing beats In-Person Therapy.  Technology can never replace the warm touch of a therapist on kids, the high fives and the hugs every time they celebrate tiny successes that really mean a lot to the children.  But at this time when we are forced to put distance between us, these alternative service delivery modes can do for now with reasonable effectivity.

This pandemic has forced us to innovate how we conduct and serve our clients.   To look at it in a positive way, what a great opportunity this crisis has provided us.  There is truth to the saying ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’.  We have other innovations in the pipeline that we will unpack to our clients in the coming months.    As the leader of this organization, no pandemic will ever crush our spirits.  The crisis may have succeeded in limiting our movement, but our purpose is what keeps us going.  We are small in size, but our hearts are big.  We will always adapt and our core values will forever remain the same.        

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