Officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday at Atlantic Hall to...

Officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday at Atlantic Hall to mark the expansion of the Stony Brook School of Health Technology and Management's Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program. Credit: James Carbone

With the East End’s population growth and the COVID-19 pandemic driving demand in recent years for speech-language pathology jobs, medical and elected officials say a new school facility at Stony Brook Southampton’s campus will help meet the need.

Officials were on hand for a ribbon cutting on Friday at Atlantic Hall to mark the expansion of the Stony Brook School of Health Technology and Management’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) program.

Speech-language pathologists work to prevent, access, diagnose and treat a variety of disorders — including social and cognitive communication, speech, language and swallowing disorders — in people of all ages. They also provide aural rehabilitation for individuals with hearing problems, and work with people for whom English is a second language who want help with their accents.

Renee Fabus, the program’s associate professor and chair, told Newsday on the eve of the ribbon cutting that recent data from the 2020 census and the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrates a growing need in the field of speech-language pathology, particularly in East End communities.

"There is such an expansive population within Long Island, especially on the East End, of both children and adults in need of speech-language pathology services as well as the bilingual population within Long Island, so there’s a need for that," Fabus said.

The program’s new facilities will feature research laboratories, classrooms with state-of-the-art technology, student workspaces and simulation laboratories with debriefing and control rooms.

Fabus said such services and bilingual speech-language pathology specialists are especially needed farther east in Suffolk County. College officials cited recent U.S. Census data that shows people in 22% of Suffolk County households speak a language other than English. With the demographics of the region changing, Fabus said places such as school districts are requesting more speech-language pathology specialists.

"There’s a lot of different things we do," Fabus said. "We’re communications specialists, swallowing specialists, and there’s so many areas like reading, writing and listening that impact our communication. That’s a piece of [why the demand is growing], but also because of the population growth and the aging population, and the shortage of bilingual speech language pathologists on the East End."

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) pointed out that the 48% increase in his district highlights why the bilingual component of the expanding Speech-Language Pathology program is "an extremely important aspect."

"The fact is that our dynamics on the East End are such that a bilingual program is very important," Palumbo said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also is pushing the need for more speech-language pathology specialists to help COVID patients experiencing long- and short-term difficulties with cognition, swallowing and communication, according to Fabus.

Frederic Weinbaum, chief operating officer for Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, said raising a child with developmental disabilities has given him an understanding of "the essential nature" of speech-language pathology services.

"I’m grateful to the profession for all the wonderful work that contributes to important improvement in health care outcomes and the growth of our children, and improving health for adults," Weinbaum said.

Snapshot of Stony Brook Southampton’s School of Health, Technology and Management’s Master’s of Science Program in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP):

• New facilities total 5,923 square feet, which includes classrooms, a control room, simulation training, and video-conferencing capacities.

• The MS SLP program first began in fall of 2020 with 25 matriculating students.

• This year in 2021, there are 30 new students.

• In future years, there will be 30 students accepted for each academic year.

• The MS program is designed to be completed in two years.

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