Communicating Can Be Hard for Coronavirus Patients. These Specialists Are Helping.

Some picture communication boards prepared by the Patient Provider Communication Task Force feature heartbreaking questions like, “When am I going to get off this ventilator?”

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Communicating with the people suffering from the new coronavirus is not easy -- no hospital visitors are allowed and some patients end up on ventilators, unable to talk.

But a national task force featuring a few medical professionals from Massachusetts is trying to ensure doctors and nurses have the resources they need to help.

NBC10 Boston spoke with two speech and language pathologists from Massachusetts General Hospital who are part of the Patient Provider Communication Task Force. The group helped develop a website of free tools for hospitals and health care providers to use when trying to communicate with COVID-19 patients.

“These are specifically for patients who aren’t able to have their visitors present or want to engage in decisions about their medical care and can’t,” MGH speech and language pathologist Stephanie Scibilia said.

The group built a number of resources, including picture communication boards, that are pandemic-specific. They feature phrases like “What’s my COVID-19 status?” and “Call my family.” Other boards are more heartbreaking, with questions like, “When am I going to get off this ventilator?” and “Am I going to die?”

As Mass. prepares for a surge in coronavirus numbers, Gov. Baker provides an update on COVID-19.

“A lot of people may shy away from putting the really hard questions on the board, like, 'We don’t want to talk about that,' but it’s important to talk about that,” MGH speech and language pathologist Sarah Gendreau said.

While some patients are able to point and give a thumbs up, Gendreau said, many are also too sedated to speak. That is why it is extremely important to be proactive and communicate with your loved ones about your medical wishes and decisions before you become sick, she said.

The site also features tips for health care providers who have to communicate while wearing protective gear. The materials have been translated into several different languages and can be downloaded and printed from any computer. The group is working to get them out to as many health care facilities as possible, making sure even those too sick to speak have a voice.

“We’re really trying to give a voice to the voiceless, to some extent,” Gendreau said. “It’s our opportunity to help advocate for them and help them communicate as much as possible.

The COVID-19 communication materials can be found at:

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