In March of 2020, as public spaces closed across the county due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NH-ME LEND clinical partners closed physical office spaces to dedicated employees and clients with disabilities. Faced with uncertainty, direct service providers scrambled to address the immediate needs of their most vulnerable clients as the leadership in these organizations created safety protocols and invested in technology to enable remote work and secure virtual appointments.  The NH-ME LEND program quickly went virtual and the universities of New Hampshire and Maine withdrew all students from externships and clinical placements.  

In September of 2020, the NH-ME LEND program was challenged to provide high-quality clinical experiences for the incoming cohort. Clinics open to accepting LEND trainees creatively formulated plans to shadow providers working remotely, participate in case reviews, projects, and trainings. Initially, the Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Services (BANDS) program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center was the only partner open to onsite training, as social distancing was possible due to observation rooms and large office spaces.  In the spring semester, as sites acclimated to new safety, they began to open their doors to trainees for remote learning and observation. As a result, LEND trainees have benefited from their clinical placements this year. For instance, Rafia Tisha (right), notes that virtual meetings for parents at Families First of Seacoast Community Health eased access to much needed support. “My entire experience was rewarding because it helped me to increase my knowledge of how to facilitate meeting with families, talk to people with various backgrounds, and empathetically share my own experiences and knowledge. It was an eye opener to understanding culture and society.” 

Royal's headshotBayli Royal (right) has been joining NH Special Medical Programs remotely since January thanks to newly installed video and audio equipment in the clinic. She comments, “Even though my time has been virtual, I still feel as though I am welcomed by every team. The child development team has taken time to teach me new medical terms and about diagnosis.  Care-Coordinators have virtually introduced me to multiple school teams and answered my endless questions since finding that is where my interest lies. Without this LEND clinical placement, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity as a social worker to see what a nutritionist and speech language pathologist can do for their patients and families.”  

Clinical partners have found a variety of ways to provide enriching experiences for trainees.  For example, those placed at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth (ChaD) had the opportunity to join Child Psychiatry Fellows for virtual didactic sessions and clinical case reviews.  Trainees have been able to join the Autism/Neuro-Developmental Psychiatric Clinic and Consultation and Evaluation Clinic, both of which have remained virtual.  And, even though NH Early Supports and Services (ESS) has not returned to family homes, trainees are shadowing providers as they conduct intakes, provide telehealth services, and coach parents.  

In some cases, trainees have participated in independent studies to fulfill their clinical requirements.  Faculty member, Jennifer Maeverde shares, "While we always try to match trainee interests and goals for their clinical experience, the needed shift with COVID-19 compelled the LEND Faculty to be responsive and creative in other ways. Three Maine trainees expressed a strong interest in completing a self-study focusing on trauma. Each with an identified trauma focus, they come together for monthly discussions, with me as the facilitator, to share what they are learning and how they are applying their learning within LEND and in their roles in their communities.”  

The LEND cohort of 2021 will always be remembered as the one that persisted through the year of the pandemic. Trainees have been resilient and highly engaged in virtual clinical experiences. NH-ME LEND could not have done this without the dedication of our Clinical Partners who provided rich, though historically different, experiences as they faced numerous challenges to serve children and families with disabilities.