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Provider Spotlight: Patty Fenn, M.S., CCC-SLP

Introduction

I am a small town girl. I grew up in the sweet little southern town of Ozark, Alabama. Ozark neighbors Fort Rucker, the main training hub for Army Aviation. My parents were retired military. They were stationed at Fort Rucker a couple of times, loved the area, and decided to make it home when they retired. I’ve been here since I was three. I did leave to go to college a couple of times. I earned my associates degree at a local junior college and transferred to Auburn University where I earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Speech Pathology. I immediately went to work with Ozark City School System as a Middle and High School SLP. Back in the day, you didn’t have to have a Master’s. I worked for a year and a half before I went to the University of Montevallo, also in Alabama. I earned a Master’s of Science Degree In Speech Language Pathology.

I had chosen Speech Pathology totally by accident. I got placed in an Intro to Speech Pathology for Non-speech majors class, because the class that I had chosen was dropped. I knew pretty quickly that this is what I had to do. I don’t want to say I’ve never been sorry—comps and all those exams were stressful—but it has provided a wonderful life for me. I’m very thankful.

I hate to admit it but I have been practicing for close to 30 years. I finished school at Auburn in 1990, and then I finished at Montevallo in ‘94. I worked in a nursing home for a short period of time—that was definitely not my bag. Children are my bag. I have had my own small private practice doing contracts for schools. I have worked in a school setting full time. But the majority of my career was with a private practice here in Ozark—we provided services to the schools, and in a clinic setting. I am a farm girl—I love horses. The best part of that private practice was hippotherapy (equine-assisted therapy). I have always loved horses! Mixing horses and Speech Therapy together was a dream come true! It was just wonderful.

And then, COVID-19 came, changing everyone’s life and world! I was furloughed for a little while and realized how much I enjoyed being at home. Before being furloughed I learned a lot about teletherapy in a trial by fire method—we just all had to jump in there. And that really helped me to see the value of teletherapy. Prior to having to do it, I had thought, How could that even be a thing? But it was. It’s a wonderful tool to get to know your families and your patients on a real, more intimate level. I feel like the training opportunities for the families to carry over the tools that you’re teaching the children are much more effective in that setting. And so I really put my antenna up about PresenceLearning.

My husband, Jim, is a PE teacher. He teaches Pre-K- 6th grade school and is delightful. We still like each other after being married for almost 29 years. We have two grown daughters, 24 and 21 years old. We’re really active in our local Methodist church. Jim sings in the Praise band. I’m one of the chief groupies. We enjoy our little hometown. Being able to work out of my house has been a huge blessing. It’s hard to put it into words.

We have a small farm. I have four horses, two golden retrievers, and two barn cats. I have been bathing horses this morning.


What inspired you to become an SLP?

I remember distinctly how I knew—when the class I’d chosen was dropped and I was placed in the Intro to Speech Pathology class instead, the professor was talking about the different phonological processes, and based on fronting and final consonant deletion patterns, you had to predict how the child would say certain phrases. I just felt like it was an amazing puzzle that we were putting together and it was so fascinating. I loved it. I jumped right in there, and I have not been disappointed. I’ve really learned to love working with children with autism. They are very much like a puzzle. If you’ve met one child with autism you’ve met one child with autism because they’re all so very different.

The professor that was teaching that Intro to Speech Pathology class also taught several other classes during my time at Auburn. We became good friends. I babysat his boys and became active in our student Speech Pathology organization. I was the president of NSSLHA when I was at Auburn University—that’s the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association. It’s a child organization of ASHA. Chapters are found on most campuses with Speech Pathology and Audiology programs.

What made you want to be a teletherapist with PresenceLearning?

Before I started working with PresenceLearning, I enjoyed working in a teletherapy mode during the pandemic with the private practice I had been working with for over 20 years. The direct contact with families in their homes made for richer, deeper connections. My neighbor had been working with PresenceLearning and told me about the company. I was ready for a change and this seemed like a good fit.

Could you walk us through your daily routine? A “day in the life of an online therapist” if you will?

The beauty of being a PresenceLearning provider is that you can create your day to look anyway you need it to fit your lifestyle. The company works to provide services within the confines that the therapist sets. I have enjoyed having personal time in the morning and then starting to see students at 8 a.m. In the 2020–2021 school year, I would work with individual students or small groups in 30-minute increments until 2:30 or 3 Monday through Thursday. I would need to remind myself to stand up, stretch, walk around, and snack during any absences or pauses between students. However, the tools within the platform made this very manageable for me.

Before, when I was working with a private practice, I would need to leave my house between 6:30 and 7 a.m. to get to wherever I was needed. Now when I have to commute all the way upstairs, that buys a lot more time. So, I’m out early in the morning playing with two beautiful golden retrievers and barn cats. I get to spend time with our horses and take care of them and have some quiet time for myself before I get started with my work day. It is truly wonderful.

At the end of my day, I usually leave 15 to 30 minutes to plan and get prepared for the next day so I don’t have to be up here 30 minutes earlier—I’m ready to hit the ground running as soon as I start. Then, I can enjoy having family time—we can cook supper,  we can sit out by the pool, or we can go somewhere if we like. It’s been so refreshing to not feel totally exhausted by the end of the day, and know that I’ve got to get up and start the same grind over and over.

The tools on the platform have been so terrific. They help you keep up with your data and track your client progress, and are just so easy to utilize. It makes everything truck along so much faster. So, I am not spending a large amount of time on documentation as I was in the private practice arena.

Whenever there might be a break—a student is absent or things like that—I have a good opportunity to catch up on my documentation for the morning. So when I am done in the afternoon, I am done in the afternoon! I don’t have things hanging over my head which is a relief.

It’s quite different in the brick-and-mortar world.

How has the platform enabled you to help your students and schools?

The platform tools allow me to make specific activities for the students’ needs—they’re fun and engaging. I can pull from the many resources available in the library and/or use on-line resources. The progress tracking and documentation tools are also very helpful!

I am learning about doing the evaluations. I did not have an opportunity to do that in my previous assignment and that is going well. I am cross-licensed in Louisiana and Alabama. I’m currently working on Idaho’s license. There’s a district in Louisiana that needed some evaluations completed, and I came in there to help—I have one soon to be completed and I have an opportunity to do more when I complete this evaluation. Every system is different and you must learn how each likes things done. As one of my clinical outreach managers says, you learn your people.

What age range/student population are you currently serving? Please include demographic information.

I have been working with Pre-K four-year-olds through high school. This is something I have done for many years, so I am quite comfortable with that range.

What do you enjoy about being a provider with PresenceLearning?

There are many things I enjoy about working with PL. I do LOVE the support systems and resources that are in place for learning the platform. I also LOVE the platform itself. The tools available and the ability to document and track progress so easily is incredible! I began teletherapy using a business model to deliver services while I was still employed in a private practice setting. You just cannot even begin to compare the two. It would be like comparing lemons to watermelons!

What were you most surprised about when you made the transition to be a teletherapist?

I was most surprised by the support I have and continue to receive. The forward thinking of the company leaders to help this job fit into the lifestyles of the therapists was/is amazing. The Good Boss author’s thoughts and techniques are not what I had experienced in the workplace (PresenceLearning CEO Kate Eberle Walker is author of the book, The Good Boss: 9 Ways Every Manager Can Support Women at Work, 2021). They are certainly a welcomed change!

I just really can’t express my appreciation for not being pushed, to move at my own pace, and the support that’s always provided—if ever I have a problem, wherever I have a need, tech support is lightning fast. I usually get responses from the clinical account managers (CAMs) that I’ve worked with quickly. And then all the wonderful learning opportunities, literally everyday.

What challenges have you faced and how have you worked to overcome them?

It was a bit challenging to learn all the new information to provide services via the PresenceLearning platform. I would prefer to say learning curves instead of challenges. However, I had as much time as I needed to learn these items. I never felt pressured to perform. Working with multiple CAMs at one time can be a bit challenging. Once I learned how to schedule meetings on their individual calendars, that got easier. Communication and study are the keys that are helping me manage and find success for the students.

Recently people have asked me about leaving my job that I had been with for so long. I tell them I’m in a win-win situation. I’m earning more and I’m working less and everybody is easy to please so it’s all good.

How do you collaborate with teachers and other school staff?

The PresenceLearning platform has many tools to assist with staff collaboration. I like to have them come into the room to see what the student has been doing. Video meetings, emails, text, and phone conversations are also efficient ways to connect and make sure the students’ needs are being met.

How have you been helping parents and caregivers who are now acting as the primary support person with their child?

One of the first things in building the trust with the parents is just to validate their feelings and understand what stresses that they’re under. And I just assure them that I’m here to help. We are on the same team and let’s work together to do everything we can to make life for your child and life at home the best it can be. And I encourage them to be nearby and then take some time at the end of the session to ask if they have any questions and encourage them to do certain activities that we did within the therapy session. For example, I’ll point out that this is something that we’re really getting better at, so please work on this and this is something we are still struggling a bit with so if you can, try to incorporate this somehow in your day. Then we’ll talk about it next time I see you and you can tell me how it went. We’ll problem solve when together.

How do you build trust and rapport with parents?

Building trust and rapport with our parents online is easier in my opinion than working in the school in person. The direct contact in face-to-face screen time meetings gives more opportunity for the parent to get to know you as a person, see the way you interact with their child, and better understand how they can carryover the activities you are doing to help their child. In the past when I worked at schools in person, I rarely, if ever, met the parents.

What tips do you have for other providers getting started with telepractice?

I would certainly ask them to get comfortable with the Help Center, quickly. Take every opportunity you can to participate in the workshops and Office Hours that are available. They are so helpful, and you’ll feel a connection with other therapists that are there as well, to know that you’re not on an island by yourself because you certainly could feel like that when you’re at home in front of your computer. So it’s just been very valuable to be in those meetings and there’s no limit to them or cost. Look for CEU opportunities related to teletherapy. I think with every difficult thing there’s a silver lining, if you look for it and there’s been lots of silver linings with COVID-19, even though much has been just awful. I believe one of the silver linings is the validity of teletherapy has become more well known. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Even some of the special education directors who have utilized teletherapy see that it is a valuable tool and a cost-saving measure. Some are interested in continuing it in their brick-and-mortar schools, not just for the students that are at home, so I do feel like this is definitely where we’re going in the future. We need to just learn the new skills, move forward, and grab on.

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