The University of Massachusetts Amherst


When three organizations came together to open a new world of possibilities for adults living with a serious brain injury, they could only imagine the long-lasting ripple effects on everyone involved.

Now that collaboration between ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center in Chicopee, Mass., and its Strive Clinic in Holyoke — day programs for adults with brain injury caused by trauma or medical conditions — and its partners at Springfield College and the UMass Amherst Department of Communication Disorders is being honored with a "Healthcare Heroes" award by BusinessWest. Their partnership has been recognized for its innovative approach to providing patients with outstanding rehabilitative care while helping train the health care professionals of tomorrow.

This work began in 2014 when Enrichment Center Director Ellen Werner reached out to leaders of the physical therapy (PT) program at Springfield College. Together, they developed an innovative model of community-based care that would bring in PT students to work with clients under the direction of their instructors, who would also serve as on-site clinicians.   

Students in the PT program now spend every semester for two years working at the center as part of an integrated learning model, with their clinical instructors also serving as Enrichment Center staff. The depth and breadth of this collaboration deepens the relationship between clients and the program, creating a vibrant learning environment.   

The collaborative model with Springfield College was so successful for both the center’s participants and the students that Werner reached out to UMass Amherst to do similar work in speech pathology.   

In 2018, ServiceNet partnered with UMass Amherst’s Department of Communication Disorders to build the relationship between master’s students with a track in speech pathology and the Enrichment Center. In this partnership, UMass provides speech-language pathology services at the Enrichment Center through graduate students working under the supervision of three clinical speech pathologists from UMass. Lisa Sommers, clinical director and clinical associate professor in communication disorders at UMass Amherst, said the partnership with the Enrichment Center is a natural offshoot of the clinical training program first-year graduate students have to complete.

Michael Starr, one of the three faculty from UMass who also serves as a clinical supervisor for speech pathology students, worked at the Enrichment Center as a graduate student at UMass. He later worked there as a speech pathologist before moving on and eventually coming to UMass as a clinical supervisor and instructor. Starr was thrilled when he heard UMass and ServiceNet had forged the collaboration.  

“A day program for folks with chronic brain injury is an unusual setting for speech pathology students to be exposed to, and except for places like the Enrichment Center, this population is often underserved and easily forgotten,” Starr says. “It’s really valuable to have students exposed to this population.”  

The speech pathology clinicians and students visit the Enrichment Center twice a week for a whole semester. The students do various individual sessions with clients, lead the morning meetings with the group, or do other group activities such as cognitive-linguistic activities or cooking.   

“I think this unique partnership is a win-win all around,” Starr says. “The clients here benefit from these students who are passionate and eager for experience and excited to be here. And the students get to work with some of the most fantastic clients they’re ever going to meet in their education. It’s an amazing experience for everyone, and I believe the students leave as better and more empathetic clinicians because of their time here.”  

Werner, for her part, couldn’t agree more.   

“With their energy and enthusiasm, the students and clinical supervisors add so much to the program,” says Werner of both the Springfield College and UMass partnerships. “For our participants, having more people who care introduced into their lives that can do something different with them is so important to the quality of experience they have every day. It’s been a truly amazing collaboration.” 

Occupational therapy (OT) students from Springfield College also complete internships at the Enrichment Center, though their instructors are not on site. 

Article posted in Community