Physically Apart – Virtually Connected
By Nicole Dean & Felicia Juarez
The use of telecommunications and information technology to provide access to health assessment, diagnosis, intervention, consultation, supervision, and information across distance.
What does this even mean? How are we expected to provide therapeutic intervention to over 100 families and children without being next to them? No physical contact to show them hand-over-hand. How will we ever get these kiddos to tolerate letting us engage with them from a computer screen for more than 5 minutes every week? How long will this be the new norm, months, a year, maybe more?
Best of Luck
The pandemic placed an interesting feat in front of Los Pasitos (LP). We were given a directive from the “State” telling us [we] had to get it done, but they couldn’t tell us exactly how… just wished us the” best of luck.”
On March 17, 2020, our Los Pasitos family that grew together professionally and personally had to face a hard fact; we would be sent home. The agency was not shutting down, but we had to figure out how to continue to provide early intervention services to our 145 families (at the time), day in and day out. Many families, scared and unsure, either told us, “no, we’ll wait until things get ‘back to normal'” or they will try. Still, they quickly said services rendered in this manner wouldn’t work for them and ended or placed them on hold indefinitely. However, many families agreed to venture into the unknown with us. These were brave families (who, at the heart of it all), wanted to keep going against all odds.
So we tried our hand at telehealth. We attempt different platforms that allowed us to see each other and held sessions over the phone. We used everything from Google Duo, Facetime, Facebook Video Messenger to Zoom. For families that did not have these capabilities or knowledge, LP Providers called over speakerphone. They would listen intently, trying to make out what was happening at that moment. Families and staff became very descriptive in conversations. There were tears shed on both sides of the screen/phone. Frustration built even further when schools went to 100% virtual learning. We all struggled, parents, families, and staff, but we stuck together, troubleshooting as we went. Parent meetings, surveys, mailing resources, dropping off activities in mailboxes, sending video texts, we NEVER GAVE UP!
With Struggle Comes Success
Fast forward 11 months, we continue to struggle; we continue to troubleshoot. However, these precious children and families that we serve continue to succeed. The following success story is by Inez Sotelo, a family supported by our fantastic Los Pasitos staff.
During this pandemic, Los Pasitos has done amazing work with my twins. We first started in January 2020, right before the pandemic. The twins were only five months old and delayed in all of their milestones. As the pandemic began, we switched from home visits to telehealth visits. Through the pandemic, both Morgan (Speech Therapist) and Sandy (Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant) have been able to teach me how to work with my girls at home. Whether it was showing me on a doll, sending me example videos for therapy, helping me keep a journal for choking issues, it's all beneficial. Their efforts have helped me succeed in bringing my girls up to date on their milestones. We have taught them to crawl, walk, and work on using spoons and speech via telehealth. It has been amazing, and my girls would NOT be where they are today if it was not for Los Pasitos and their excellent team.
So, on the other side of all this, you may ask, “Is this all worth it?” We couldn’t imagine fighting for anything less. Our staff wakes up every morning striving to produce innovative ways to create breakthroughs and makeup what we have lost. Encouraging stories from parents like Inez is the reason we continue to work and fight hard. All the while, we adjust and adhere to Gubernatorial Public Health Orders, changing policies, and facing critics of a system we have no control over.
And the question remains would we do it all over again? The answer for us is YES! A small child that wouldn’t speak is now using words to ask for something instead of crying out of frustration. That tired mom can start her day easier because she has learned techniques to help little Johnny get dressed without a 30-minute fight. A grandmother can rest easier because baby Stephanie doesn’t choke anymore when being fed. Dad can smile because baby Isaac is running and not falling and hurting himself when they play. Without a doubt, these victories make it all worthwhile!