Memphis Speech & Hearing Center: Celebrating 75 Years of Service to the Mid-South

by Shelley Ardonne

The Memphis Speech and Hearing Center (MSHC; ‘the clinic’) is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, Dr. Maurice Mendel, Dean Emeritus of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and Dr. Linda Jarmulowicz, Dean and Director of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders and MSHC shared some history of the school and the clinic.

MSHC was founded in 1947 by members of several local non-profit organizations including the East Memphis Exchange Club and the Junior League. Over its first decade, the clinicians operated from various locations around the city of Memphis. In 1960, the Tennessee state government funded the construction of a new building for the Clinic, which was located at 807 Jefferson Avenue. The Jefferson location remained the home of the clinic and the school until 2015. MSHC gained clients following the consolidation of services downtown, and the board of directors was not equipped to continue managing the Clinic’s operations on a volunteer basis. 

Dr. Maurice MendelThe University of Memphis, which was then Memphis State, agreed to take over MSHC in 1967. The university gained the clinic building downtown, and the clinic benefitted from the development of educational programs and research opportunities that the university provided. Soon after MSHC became a part of the University of Memphis, Dr. Jerry Studebaker and Dr. Robyn Cox joined the academic faculty. They each contributed greatly to the field of audiology and are well-known around the world among speech and hearing professionals. The quality and depth of their research was made possible through collaboration with MSHC clinicians. Academic faculty collected data from MSHC clients, and clients benefitted from the cutting-edge research that was being performed.

In 1974, a satellite clinic was opened at a military hospital on Park Avenue where the school is now located. This location was called the Kennedy Center, and speech and hearing services were provided there from 1974 to 2000. From 2000 to 2015, the satellite clinic operated in the Defense Audit Building next to the current building. Many generations of SLPs and audiologists passed through those facilities. 

Dr. Maurice Mendel, who was hired as the Chair of the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology in 1988, began his search for a more spacious and modern facility for the department and the clinic from the moment he arrived in Memphis. In 1997, the state provided funding for a new building, and an architect was hired to plan the new facility that would house the School of Audiology and Speech Language Pathology and the Loewenberg College of Nursing. Unfortunately, an economic recession in 1998 and another in 2008 put these plans on hold until 2012. Once the School was ready to resume planning the construction of the building, the state, Dr. Mendel, President Shirley Raines, and the Dean of Nursing worked together to fully fund the $60 million building we are in today, which opened in 2015.

After Dr. Mendel’s retirement, Dr. Linda Jarmulowicz became the Dean and Director of the School and MSHC. The clinic saw many changes from 2014 to 2016, including the move to our current building and the beginning of a partnership with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. Today, MSHC uses Le Bonheur’s electronic medical record services and healthcare policies. This partnership between a healthcare facility and the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders has been helpful for the clinic, and students have benefitted from the experience of working with an electronic medical recording system prior to moving to offsite clinical rotations. Once moved into the Park Avenue building, the Memphis Speech and Hearing Center finally had room to expand the services it offered. 

MSHC lobbyBetween 2017 and 2019, the clinic introduced a program for children with autism with funding from the Urban Child Institute. The Aphasia Bootcamp was created after the 2018 Midsouth Conference, and bilingualism and literacy services were expanded. Associate clinical professor, Vicki Haddix, received a state grant to improve Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) device use and training in area schools, and there was an increased demand for vestibular services in the audiology clinic. By 2019, the Transgender Voice Development program was expanded, along with the cochlear implant and vocal health programs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges to MSHC in 2020, and the faculty had to navigate virtual services while also providing online supervision to students. A drive-through program was created for hearing aid repairs, and MSHC speech services were some of the first to be offered virtually in Memphis. While audiology services returned during the summer of 2020, speech services did not resume in person until the spring of 2021. The faculty, staff, and students of the Memphis Speech and Hearing Center worked diligently to make sure that patients received excellent care and students received the training they needed, while everyone stayed safe. 

Aphasia Boot Camp 2021Today, the Memphis Speech and Hearing Center serves the most clients and offers the widest range of services in the clinic’s history. The clinic often pioneers innovative programs, and the cochlear implant and AAC services offered by the clinic have renewed interest in the devices in West Tennessee. There are record numbers of auditory processing evaluations in our clinic, and the vestibular and aphasia rehabilitation groups have become increasingly popular. As pediatric and aural rehabilitation groups return, the outlook of the clinic has never looked brighter. “At this rate,” said Dean Jarmulowicz, “MSHC should be here for our patients and clients in the mid-south for another 75 years!” 

Thank you to Dr. Maurice Mendel and Dean Linda Jarmulowicz for providing information for this article!