Communication impairment during mechanical ventilation and prolonged critical illness is extremely frustrating and frightening for patients and increases the risk for miscommunication, misinterpretation, and poor outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified patient communication impairment in intensive care units. This article presents 3 case examples from the experience of a team of hospital-based speech-language pathologists providing augmentative and alternative communication support resources and services to intensive care unit patients treated for COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic. Cases were selected to illustrate the protracted and complex in-hospital and rehabilitative recovery of critically ill patients with COVID-19, necessitating creative problem-solving and nursing collaborations with speech-language pathologists to support patient-provider communication.
The cases demonstrate (1) increased need for bilingual communication resources, (2) impaired cognitive and motor function associated with a variety of post–COVID-19 sequelae including severe critical illness myopathy, and (3) delayed transition to a speaking valve due to the secretion burden.
COVID-19 and acute respiratory distress syndrome (all), cerebral microhemorrhage, multi-system organ failure, hypoxic brain injury, altered mental status, seizure, stroke.
Multimodal and progressive augmentative and alternative communication interventions included low-technology strategies and simple communication boards, video language interpretation, tracheostomy speaking strategies, and a video intercom system.
All patients made progressive gains in communication ability.
Evaluation by augmentative and alternative communication specialists and progressive intervention from speech-language pathologists in collaboration with intensive care unit nurses can greatly improve patient-provider communication during treatment for and recovery from COVID-19 and other prolonged critical illnesses.