August 22, 2023

We are Northern: This is the Speech Pathology team

This week is Speech Pathology Week and the theme is ‘Communicating for Life’. During this week, the aim is to help raise awareness about communication disability and the role of Speech Pathologists.

Speech Pathologists assess, diagnose and treat communication disorders and swallowing and feeding difficulties. At Northern Health, the Speech Pathology Department consists of 43 clinicians in the Paediatric and Adult teams working across Northern Hospital Epping, Bundoora Centre, Broadmeadows Hospital and Craigieburn Centre.

The Paediatric team supports infants and pre-school aged children in the Neonatal Unit and Children’s Ward with feeding, swallowing and communication concerns. The team also works in outpatients; joint feeding clinics with dietetics, communication clinic, the Multidisciplinary Developmental Assessment Clinic (MDAC) and the Northern Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment Clinic (NASDAC).

The Adult team services all those over the age of 18 years. Their patients present with communication or swallowing difficulties resulting from a range of medical conditions including stroke, brain injury, cancer or progressive neurological diseases (PND). The Adult team provide inpatient services across the acute, subacute and palliative care wards, through to home and centre-based services including the Community Therapy Service (CTS), Early Stroke Discharge (ESD) program and specialist clinics such as the PND, Asthma and Allergies and Dysphagia Clinic.

Lauren Ramsay, Allied Health Assistant (AHA), is celebrating 16 years at Northern Health this year. Lauren was one of the first AHAs to complete competencies in Speech Pathology, and last year, became the Department’s first Speech Pathology (single discipline) AHA, joining the acute Speech Pathology team at Northern Hospital Epping.

“Working in Speech Pathology as an AHA can be so rewarding. I am extremely passionate about giving our patients every opportunity to communicate when they are cannot due to deficits related to illness. This was my motivation to apply and move into working solely in Speech Pathology last year, after working across different disciplines for the previous 15 years,” she said.

Lauren further says we often “presume” people can’t understand us when they are not able to speak or reply as we expect.

“This quite often is not the case and I love having the opportunity and available time to find ways for these patients to communicate with, by using aids such as pen and paper, communication boards, apps on phone’s/tablets and speaking with families. Seeing a patient’s face light up when they know they are being heard is pretty special.”

Speech Pathologists are active members of the multi-disciplinary team. They often work alongside Dietitians, as their roles can overlap when they are supporting patients who experience a change in their swallowing function.  Speech Pathologists also have strong working relationships with physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists, doctors (such as ENTs) and nurses as the treating team work to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

Post COVID-19 and in the last 12 months, the team is proud to have secured additional Speech Pathology EFT for the Early Stroke Discharge (ESD) program. This has allowed them to work towards the implementation of best practice for early, high-intensity aphasia rehabilitation, and improved communication and swallowing outcomes for patient’s post-stroke.

They also established the Outpatient Dysphagia Clinic at Northern Hospital Epping. This clinic provides specialist assessment for people experiencing difficulty swallowing, with access to same day instrumental swallowing evaluation, including Videofluoroscopic Swallowing Studies (VFSS) and Fibreoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES).

Furthermore, the purchase of dysphagia rehabilitation equipment and technology for the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Broadmeadows Hospital, including the Iowa Oral Performance Instrument (IOPI) and Surface Electromyography (SEMG) software, will allow the implementation of advances in outcome driven evidence-based dysphagia rehabilitation.

In 2023, the team is looking forward to the roll out of the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and the change in diet code from “Soft Dental Diet” to “Easy to Chew” that will come with the EMR. They are also looking forward to integrating the IOPI and SEMG into their patient’s dysphagia rehabilitation regimes and seeing improved outcomes in swallowing function for these patients.

The Speech Pathology Department at Bundoora Centre is in the process of setting up a new space to promote the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. These devices are communication aids that support or replace spoken and/or written communication. Moving into a more accessible space will help provide outpatients with progressive neurological diseases the ability to trial and select the best option for them.

Thank you to our Speech Pathology team for all your hard work and dedication!

Pictured in featured image: Speech Pathology teams across Northern Health.