Assistance is based on income, and applications for HearU are reviewed at Barkley Memorial Center, the home of the university’s audiology program. The Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing receives applications for the Lions and Sertoma hearing aid banks and works in partnership with the university. The hearing aid banks accept donations of hearing aids in all conditions, and those interested in donating can contact the banks for more information.
While the services are based on financial criteria, unique situations may warrant exceptions.
“We’ve had to make quite a few exceptions recently because inflation is just so high,” Ray said. “We have people that it looks like they may have the resources but maybe the spouse and the individual with the hearing loss are both going through health care issues. For example if one has cancer and diabetes their expenses just for their medication can be over $1,000 a month.
“It may look like they have good financial resources monthly, but it doesn’t stretch enough to afford something like a pair of hearing aids. We see that more and more.”
Ray experienced the financial burden of hearing aids herself when her son was diagnosed with hearing problems at the age of 17 months. She had to take out a loan for a set of hearing aids and pay it back with interest over several years. Ray, a professor of practice in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, founded HearU in 2007.
“I knew there had to be a better way,” Ray said. “We started HearU to lessen the emotional and financial burden on families with deaf and hard of hearing children.”
HearU has dispensed over 900 hearing aids to children across the state since its inception, which includes Lachance’s daughter, Chloie.
Chloie was born prematurely, which affected her inner ear development and led to her hard-of-hearing diagnosis. Being connected to HearU Nebraska provided the Lachance family with the assistance needed to get hearing aids early on in Chloie’s life. She is on her third set of hearing aids from the program today.
HearU also allows children to customize the color and designs on their hearing aids and earmolds. For her current set, Chloie chose pink hearing aid and purple earmolds with a blue heart.
HearU has given Chloie more freedom to participate in school and communicate more freely with her friends and family. She currently enjoys school, especially math, science, and ukulele club.
“One thing we really like about the hearing aids is that at LPS the teachers wear microphones that go to classroom speakers and directly to the hearing aid,” Lachance said. “It’s awesome, and it helps cut out background noise.”
Hearing difficulties impact not only individuals, but also their families and society. “Fortunately, those Nebraskans who cannot access amplification due to a lack of financial resources have someplace to turn, and our students who are attending the only Doctor of Audiology program in the state are provided unique opportunities to work with this population” states Ray.
“Everybody has someone in their family who is impacted by a deaf or hard of hearing diagnosis,” Ray said. “It’s a huge risk factor if left untreated. Adults may struggle at work and children with untreated hearing difficulties can cost society up to a million dollars over the course of their life span.”
Research shows that those with untreated hearing difficulties are at higher risk of dementia, loneliness and more, and the problem is growing. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently 466 million people with disabling levels of hearing, with an estimated 700 million by 2050. Accounting for all levels of hearing differences, globally there are approximately 1.5 billion affected.
The Hearing Aid Banks and statewide partners are working hard to combat these problems. Some 40 offices from Omaha to Scottsbluff dispense hearing aids to adults, giving access to more than 200 providers. All pediatric hearing facilities are participants in HearU Nebraska.
“Shout out to all the providers out there who participate in the hearing aid banks, because they typically do it at a reduced cost,” Ray said. “The providers across the state are the critical component. We have amazing hearing healthcare providers in our state that are willing to participate in this statewide program. Without them, we wouldn’t have a program.”
Access to services like these is crucial, and the earlier hearing a difficulty is found in a child, the earlier they are able to access treatment.
“Hard of hearing children who are provided early intervention by the age of six months will likely advance at the same rate as their hearing peers,” Ray said.
The audiology program works closely with the state’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program to reach certain goals. The goal is to follow a 1-3-6 rule, which is to have infants screened by one month of age, diagnosed by three months, and beginning treatment by six months.
“Our numbers of children in Nebraska meeting that goal have been very, very high,” Ray said. “Since we’re so rural, the three-month diagnosis is difficult, but 99.4% of all babies are being screened for hearing difficulties before they leave the hospital.”
In an effort to increase the number of three-month diagnoses in rural Nebraska, remote evaluations are now offered. Hannah Ditmars, associate professor of practice in special education and communication disorders, partners with Sara Peterson, certified teacher of the deaf, to conduct the evaluations.
Due to a shortage of pediatric audiologists in greater Nebraska, Ditmars conducts the evaluations via telehealth, while Peterson sits in-person with families and serves as Ditmars’ hands.
Evaluations are done at sites run by Educational Service Units 13 and 16, which are located in Sidney, Scottsbluff, Chadron, North Platte and Ogallala.
“Being able to offer this program with somebody trained in pediatrics is a huge thing, because there typically aren’t many choices when you live in rural locations,” Peterson said.
From serving infants to the elderly, the university’s audiologists and statewide partners are dedicated to serving those in need.
“We meet people where they are,” Ray said. “I feel it’s necessary in the medical setting to find what you can do for those families and those individuals that need assistance. A lot of people don’t have accessibility, whether that is financially or where they’re located within the state, and we need to find answers.”
“The Nebraska Hearing Aid Banks to me are a solution for a lot of individuals who wouldn’t have access if they didn’t exist,” she said.
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln