February 18, 2022
Podcast guest SLP Cheryl Hersh looks at a child and smiles
SLP Cheryl Hersh

When Cheryl Hersh gave up the conference rooms for Zoom platforms, the COVID-19 pandemic was just taking hold in the U.S.

Hersh works as a part of a team treating pediatric feeding disorders at Mass General Brigham. Gone were the conference rooms filled with clinicians, family members, and multi-disciplinary collaborators, and Hersh quickly learned the platform provided new insights into the lives of the families with whom she worked.

Through telepractice, Hersh could see just where and what her patients were eating. Hersh refers to this experience as “eye-opening,”and it was during this time that her employer approached her with another new idea. Hersh would begin screening patients with a questionnaire to look for social determinants of health. These sometimes-unseen environmental and social factors—such as access to food or housing—can hinder health care outcomes. 

“It's my responsibility as their provider to take a few moments, pause, and ask some of these really difficult questions,” Hersh says.

On ASHA Voices, Hersh talks about what she’s learning about how social determinants of health influence patients’ lives and health, and shares the specific ways she’s modified her care to be better informed by these factors.

“I think the most important relationship is our relationship with our patients,” she says. “And I feel really fortunate that having a trusting and therapeutic relationship, we can really help direct their care so that the patients can feel most successful.” 

For example, when she discovered that a food item she often recommended was not covered by the Massachusetts food assistance program, Hersh met with other SLPs to come up with a new list of foods that might work as a suitable replacement.

“Examples like this made me really pause and think about the social determinants of health and how they affect my patient population directly,” Hersh says.

Hersh says Mass General’s questionnaire focuses on seven categories of social determinants of health. The subjects can be sensitive, and Hersh shares the thoughtful ways she addresses these topics with patients and their families.

“Treating them with dignity and respect is one of our primary goals,” Hersh says. “And any questions I ask my families, I sort of have a ‘is-this-a-question-that-conveys-dignity-and-respect’ filter in my head.”

The health system Hersh works for, Massachusetts General Hospital, has an office dedicated to addressing social determinants of health and the inequities that surround them.

Learn More:

ASHA Voices: Teaming Up to Treat Pediatric Feeding Disorder

ASHA Voices: Confronting Health Care Disparities

Teamwork to Wean a Child From G-Tube to Food

Read the transcript.

Meet our Guest:

Cheryl Hersh, MS, CCC-SLP,  Mass General Brigham; assistant professor, MGH Institute of Health Professions

To hear each episode as soon as it's released, follow the Podcast page on the Leader website or subscribe to the program with Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Questions or comments? Email us at[email protected]. Or leave us a voicemail at 301-296-5804. We may include your comment in an upcoming episode.

Support for this episode of ASHA Voices comes from The Medical SLP Collective.

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