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UW-Eau Claire expands speech therapy and audiology service options for community

| Gary Johnson

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Center for Communication Disorders (CCD) is expanding its speech-language health care service options to respond to community needs after the announcement that multiple clinics and hospitals are closing in the Chippewa Valley.

HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls will close along with several Prevea Health clinics in the region in March and April, reducing the available speech therapy and audiology services.

Lindsay Pohlen

Lindsay Pohlen, director of the Center for Communication Disorders

“With the HSHS and Prevea closure, we, at the CCD, have experienced an increase in the number of people from the Chippewa Valley inquiring about and accessing our speech and language services,” says Lindsay Pohlen, CCD director. “This has provided our student clinicians with the opportunity to earn clinical hours and has diversified their clinical experience. The Center for Communication Disorders is grateful to be able to serve those in our community.”

The campus-based CCD provides speech-language pathology services across all age ranges, from early childhood through late adulthood. All services are free and provided by undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing degrees in speech-language pathology, audiology or other similar professions.

Services are supervised by UW-Eau Claire faculty members who are licensed speech-language pathologists (SLPs) with expertise in all service-delivery areas. The CCD provides individual and group services both in person and via telehealth.

“While the CCD currently maintains a waiting list for individual services, existing groups have the capability to incorporate additional clients,” Pohlen says. “We are striving to balance the needs of our students and the health care and service needs of the community.”

UW-Eau Claire’s Communication Sciences and Disorders program also is preparing additional professionals to address the community’s long-term speech therapy and audiology service needs.

The program offers a variety of options for students to earn a degree, both at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. A master’s degree is needed to practice as a SLP, but individuals can practice as a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA) under the supervision of an SLP in a variety of service delivery settings. Both SLPs and SLPAs are needed across the region and state to fill numerous open positions, and especially to start new private-practice clinics to meet the growing need for services.

The department offers both an on-campus and online master’s degree. As part of this program, students gain academic and clinical experience with individuals of all ages, eventually leading to licensure as an SLP. Graduate students in the online program complete their clinical training in sites within their home community. Graduate students in the on-campus program complete their clinical training by providing services both within the CCD on campus, but also in conjunction with community SLPs throughout the Chippewa Valley.

 Partnerships with regional SLPs in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient clinics are critical for training the next generation of SLPs.

“Closures of these regional health care partners have negatively impacted this training program, in addition to reducing the health care options for people throughout the region,” says Laura Prince, CSD external placement coordinator. “We are grateful to other regional partners who have stepped in to assist students in finishing their clinical training.”

For those seeking a bachelor’s degree, the traditional on-campus program is recognized throughout the region for high-quality education. Recently, a new certificate was added, allowing CSD students to complete the training required to become an SLPA. Starting in fall 2024, students can complete the entire bachelor’s degree, including the SLPA certificate, in a fully online format.

Abby Hemmerich

Dr. Abby Hemmerich, chair of the communication sciences and dsorders department

“We hope that adding a fully online option will allow prospective students throughout our region, and across Wisconsin, to get access to this training program without having to uproot their entire life to move to Eau Claire,” says Dr. Abby Hemmerich, CSD department chair.

The additional SLPA option is made possible thanks to the $9.4 million Workforce Innovation Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. UW-Eau Claire’s multiyear award focuses on strengthening the regional workforce with new health-related career options and programming.


Dr. Carmen Manning, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences

“The CSD program has effectively leveraged the resources of the WEDC Workforce Innovation Grant to serve the health care needs of northwest Wisconsin and beyond,” says Dr. Carmen Manning, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences and co-primary investigator for the WEDC grant.

For more information about the SLPA program, on-campus bachelor’s degree and the online bachelor’s degree, visit the communication sciences and disorders academic offerings site.