Cathie Anderson

Sacramento State to double size of speech language center

Jeannette Wilson Reiff presides over 12 therapy rooms at Sacramento State’s Maryjane Rees Language, Speech and Hearing Center. That sounds like a lot until you visit the clinic from 3-8 p.m. weekdays during a busy fall or spring semester.

Before meeting clients for sessions, graduate students must pick up materials from the supply room. Roughly 60 student clinicians must book a 50-minute session with each of their clients over the course of the week. Every session is taped, and professors watch from an observation room.

At times like these, the jam-packed center bursts at the seams. It’s a traffic jam that Robert Pieretti, chair of the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, expects will dissipate in 2016 when the Rees center moves into its new home at Folsom Hall. Pieretti and Reiff say the center’s space will double, and the number of therapy rooms will grow to 25.

In addition, Pieretti said, other departments from the College of Health and Human Services are based in Folsom Hall, so the move will make it easier to bring nursing students, for example, together with the speech-language students for interprofessional education.

Children and adults alike come to the center from all around the region seeking help with challenges such as language deficits, cleft palates, stuttering, hearing loss, auditory processing, voice disorders and traumatic brain injury. They meet twice a week with one of the 50-60 students working toward master’s degrees in speech-language pathology.

$16Approximate per-session cost of speech therapy at Sacramento State

Each client pays $400 a semester, which boils down to about $16 a session, said Reiff, coordinator for the student clinic. That compares with $85 to $150 per session at private clinics around the region.

“The nice thing about it is that there are many brains behind the therapy that goes on here,” Reiff said. “There’s the clinician. There’s a clinical instructor who’s a faculty member. There’s the methods instructor, so the clinician is able to collaborate with so many faculty members to serve that one person who comes.”

$85-$150Cost of speech therapy session in a private clinic

The faculty is always seeking additional ways students can use their skills to benefit community residents, ensuring that students handle a variety of challenges, Pieretti said. For instance, professor Ann Blanton established a transitions voice clinic that provides vocal therapy to the transgender community.

At Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, students teach a series of classes to parents on how to help their children become more literate. Thanks to professor Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin and her Love Talk Read book drive, each parent will get about 20 books to take home over the course of all the classes. Roughly 90,000 books have been donated to the effort so far.

Faculty and students at the Rees center, named for the faculty member who founded it, also work with many people in the community who suffer strokes, head injuries or other types of brain damage. Professor Darla Hagge has instituted a variety of therapy sessions to help clients with life re-entry. There’s communication therapy. There’s communicating through art. There’s a book club for individuals who have lost their ability to understand or express. And, there’s a session where clients learn to create access through technology, working on tablets, smartphones or other devices.

“They experience life again as communication partners and get affirmation that what they have to say is valued,” Pieretti said.

Clients or their parents commonly report successes to their clinicians over the course of a semester, Reiff said, recalling one client who shared two achievements in one day. A student at Sac State, he had been working on neutralizing his accent.

“He was in a political science class, and a politician from the Capitol came to speak,” Reiff said. “He said, ‘You know what? I didn’t hesitate to raise my hand. I asked a question, and I was understood.’ And then he said, ‘I have an iPhone, and I have to tell you that two days ago, Siri understood me for the first time.’ ”

Those successes ring familiar to graduate clinician Rebecca Boroica. The daughter of Romanian immigrants, she was born in the United States and speaks English fluently, she said, but she often acted as a translator for her parents because they struggled with the language.

Boroica initially majored in English but felt confined by it. While volunteering with her sister at a nursing home, she said, she observed a speech pathologist working with a client and knew she had found her calling. She got her bachelor’s in speech-language pathology from Sacramento State, then returned for her master’s degree.

“In graduate school, you’re not only juggling classes, but you’re implementing everything you have learned,” she said. “I’ve learned how to communicate much better with my professors. … I’ve learned to turn to other people for support. I can go to any professor and I can say, ‘I don’t know what to do. This is what I have.’ They really guide me and shape me, so I can better serve my clients.”

Retired urban planner Robert Cervantes, 67, is one of the people who has sought assistance from the center. Cervantes said he has been under the tyranny of stuttering for a lifetime, and he doesn’t expect that to change.

However, with the help of occasional therapy sessions over the last 30 years, he has learned techniques that have made it less pronounced. Cervantes began treatment decades ago.

“I had turned 30,” he said. “I could see that my career was going nowhere, and I knew that I was largely responsible for my own failure to advance because I wasn’t really confident about my speech because I stuttered. I decided to seek out therapy. … After a couple years of that, I got a job offer in Sacramento with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.”

Cervantes said he thinks that many of his former colleagues were surprised that he landed a job at what was then considered the state’s premier planning agency. He credits his initial therapy sessions, taken at Fresno State where he then lived, with boosting his confidence. Once he transferred to the capital, he sought out the Rees center at Sac State for further work.

Most people don’t learn about the Rees center, Reiff and Pieretti said, until speech and language disorders are standing in the way of their job and educational advancement. Just last semester, Reiff said, a local health agency asked the Rees center to begin providing key managerial employees with sessions on accent modification.

“The CEO found that some key employees in their workplace reached a certain level and then all of a sudden, weren’t as promotable because of their unintelligible speech,” Reiff said, “so she’s partnering with us … and really framing it around professional development, so they can be more successful in advancing their careers.”

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.