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School of Health Sciences program helps community stay balanced during pandemic

VIDEO: WSSU's physical therapy and occupational therapy professors and students conduct fall prevention program via Zoom.

Many healthcare providers and programs have adjusted the way they care for patients due to COVID-19 safety precautions. These required modifications sparked innovation in Winston-Salem State University’s physical and occupational therapy programs as they take their fall prevention program online.

The program, funded through a National Council on Aging grant, launched in August of 2019 and was designed to provide free, in-person screenings to the population most at risk of falls, adults ages 65 and over. This was until the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People would come to us. We would give them balance activities and suggest one of our classes based on the results,” says Sara Migliarese, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at WSSU and program director for the grant. “When everything came to a halt, we knew we had to develop another way to continue the program,”

The program originally offered participants three, in-person classes. After COVID-19 restrictions were implemented, SOHS received permission from the grant to offer two of the classes virtually.

“We’ve altered our program from what we were originally doing to a very safe and conservative list of activities,” says Migliarese. We hope to still get evidenced-based fall prevention information out to the community, decrease falls, and although this isn’t a part of the grant, address social isolation.

WSSU's occupational therapy and physical therapy departments are the only programs in the country to offer the fall prevention program virtually. The classes are conducted via Zoom, with breakout rooms and PT students to help. Professors move around to each breakroom to monitor. There is also a licensed physical therapist and occupational therapist to assist.

Participants whose care plan includes a virtual class are placed in a convenient 8-week class where they receive physical therapy instruction and weekly calls from a PT student. With the participant’s consent, a therapist will conduct pretesting and post testing. People who aren’t quite ready for the classes receive resources that included advice on ways to stay safe.

Screenings were completed on 43 participants over a three-day period in May. Twelve people were enrolled in the virtual program. The fall prevention program will be offered again Aug. 10-14.  

For more information about the fall prevention program, email

Read more: School of Health Sciences receives $147,000 grant to launch fall prevention program

About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

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