MUW students create communication tools for COVID-19 patients

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COLUMBUS, MS (WCBI) – Hundreds of Mississippians remain in the hospital with COVID-19, often times with few ways to talk with their family or their doctors.

So students at the Mississippi University for Women are making sure they do not go unheard. Feeling isolated and alone are all too-common side-effects of the coronavirus. For people in the hospital with the disease, the need for a ventilator or the toll the virus takes can take away their ability to speak.

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So MUW senior Sarah Williams, president of the school’s chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, decided to help give those patients a voice.

“I can’t even imagine not being able to have family there and having to struggle to communicate with the healthcare providers that you are able to be in contact with,” she says.

Williams’ aunt, a nurse at a Southaven hospital, told her about the need for communication boards for local COVID-19 patients.

“They have to clean [the boards] between each patient and they don’t have enough quantity to mach the number of patients that they are needing to serve at this time,” Williams explained.

So she and her NSSLHA classmates made more.

The boards are double-sided laminated sheets. One side has symbols for specific requests while the other has a keypad for patients to spell out specific messages. Janette Hreish, an Instructor and Clinical Educator with the W’s Department of Speech Language Pathology, designed the boards to be versatile yet simple and not emotionally taxing for the patients to use.

“With one gesture or two gestures they would be able to build a message and communicate effectively,” Hreish says. “And I wanted to include controls for their environment.”

Those included commands like “On,” “Off,” or “Get the Doctor.” There are also symbols for patients to express emotions, like fear, worry, or love.

“If I’m unable to get my needs met, I’m unable to get my emotional needs met, it might affect their willingness to keep fighting the disease,” Hreish says.

The school created 200 of the boards that the students to passed out in September to local hospitals like Baptist Golden Triangle, OCH Regional Medical Center and others across the region, to help make sure their coronavirus patients do not feel alone.

“Let our fellow Mississippians know ‘We are in this together,'” Hreish says.

Hreish says they will continue to make more communication boards for those who need them. Those wishing to request boards from MUW can contact Hreish at jhreish@muw.edu.