‘A Community of Practice’

Project ECHO reaching out to help those in rural areas

By Isabel Phillips
CHS Contributor

From across the country to the University of Kentucky, Project ECHO is helping to reduce health disparities in underserved areas of the Commonwealth.

The basic idea of Project ECHO is to provide both health professionals and educators with a resource where they can get suggestions from experts in various different fields. Mary Jo Cooley Hidecker, PhD, MA, MS, CCC-A/SLP, brought this program from the University of Wyoming to UK as a way to better serve the state of Kentucky. It’s produced by the TAALC Communication Project, Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky and funded by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Here at UK, it works a bit like a wagon wheel, one participant said. At the center is what is called the Hub Team, which is made up of professionals and experts in their fields. These experts include speech language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, audiologists, teachers of the visually impaired, and special educators.

The Hub Team then extends to professionals and educators around the state, and the country, to provide a more comprehensive and expert view on specific cases that they are dealing with. Project ECHO takes place in six, biweekly sessions, with each session containing a didactic presentation and a case presentation.

The didactic presentation, which lasts about 20 minutes, is given by members of the Hub Team. They give a presentation on some sort of evidence-based intervention practice along with approach suggestions. This is followed by a case presentation given by someone in the community where they describe a case that they are struggling with that is related to AAC, or alternative or augmentative communication.

AAC refers to people who are unable to use oral speech. So, these members of the community are either educators or medical professionals who are working with kids who communicate through an AAC device.

The team of experts serve as a resource for the educators and medical professionals in the community who are in need of additional resources. So far, 115 people have registered for these sessions, with around 70-80 showing up for each individual session, organizers said.

Additionally, around 40 percent of those attending the sessions have been from rural areas of Kentucky, showing that Project ECHO is accomplishing its goal of reaching underserved areas of the state.

Katelyn Slone, MS/CCC-SLP, a member of the Hub Team and a speech language pathologist at UK, has found Project ECHO to be an enriching experience for not only herself, but also the other participants.

“Being a member of the UK ECHO HUB team has been such a great experience,” Slone said. “As a researcher and a practicing clinician, it has been amazing to see a variety of professionals come together and collaborate on evidence-based practice.”

Project ECHO has been a great resource for medical professionals and educators during COVID, a time when they have felt more isolated and alone than ever, Slone said. It has It has provided professionals with the ability to collaborate with others during these unprecedented times. All educators and health care professionals are encouraged to join the sessions as either a case presenter or simply as someone who comes to listen and observe.

“It has been nice to hear feedback from participants,” Slone said. “One participant said they felt re-energized to work with their students on AAC and communication. It really validates the need for this community of practice.”

Want to sign up for the next session? Zoom: https://uky.zoom.us/j/81331684296?pwd=TGZLaCtUUkxVZmZLV3UrcGVPWVFpUT09

Want more information? Email taalc@uky.edu

All sessions will be from 4-5 p.m. Future sessions include:

Monday, April 12 — Considerations for Gross Motor

Monday, April 26 — Considerations for Fine Motor

Monday, May 10 — SETT Framework & CATS/KATS Network