County funding enables audiology clinic to reopen Clients welcome revived service

August 03, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

When state budget cuts forced the Carroll County Health Department to close its audiology clinic nine months ago, 76-year-old Joseph Serravalle of Manchester ran into maintenance problems with his hearing aids. So he was happy to see the clinic reopen this month.

The county commissioners provided $30,000 for the fiscal year that began July 1. Health Officer Dr. Janet W. Neslen said the county money and payments from clients will cover the clinic's $40,000 annual operating budget.

Health Department staff members say the audiology clinic has been one of the most popular. When it closed, clients sent letters and called, saying they could not afford market prices for hearing aid services and urging the commissioners to replace the state loss with county money.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, however, said the public response had no impact on her vote.

"When we decided to fund these things, it was not influence from the public at all," she said. Commissioner Donald I. Dell did not recall receiving comments from the public.

Clients pay for services such as hearing tests and fitting hearing aids on a sliding scale up to $84 a visit. Most clients also have to pay for hearing aids, which the Health Department obtains from manufacturers at cost, usually $350 to $400.

Medicaid covers hearing aids for children up to age 21 whose families qualify for medical assistance.

After the audiology clinic closed in October 1992, Mr. Serravalle took one of his hearing aids -- he wears one in each ear -- to be cleaned by a private service.

He said the service representative insisted that the hearing aid needed to be reconditioned.

Mr. Serravalle said that although he didn't want the aid reconditioned, he put down a $150 deposit. He later learned that the hearing aid was still under warranty, and he is pressing a court claim to try to recover his money.

Mr. Serravalle, a native Baltimorean, was born with a hearing impairment. He had mastoid surgery at age 34, which brought temporary improvement.

Despite his hearing difficulty, he played drums in burlesque theaters and during World War II at the Club Ambassador, which he says was the birthplace of the jitterbug.

He still proudly displays his Musicians Association of Metropolitan Baltimore membership card.

Mr. Serravalle said. "These people [at the Health Department] are nice. They don't rip you off." He has been going to the clinic since 1989 and was back last week for a new hearing aid.

After a client has been fitted with a hearing aid, he or she will need to return to the clinic for adjustments, explained audiologist Catherine Alles.

Hearing aid adjustments require counseling to determine individual preferences, Ms. Alles said. "Sometimes people with similar audiograms will have different things they want to listen to. So you can't just plunk a hearing aid on them and say, 'Well, it fits your audiogram,' " she said.

To test hearing, Ms. Alles puts headphones on the patient, then uses a microphone with a console that measures hearing at pitches ranging from high to low and at a variety of decibel levels.

An audiogram may show areas of normal hearing as well as areas of mild, moderate or severe hearing loss, the audiologist said. A hearing aid must be precisely fitted physically, she said, and also requires a customized electronics package inside to cover variations in an individual's hearing.

Ms. Alles works with patients to get hearing aids adjusted to receive the sounds they want and to try to screen out background noises. "They'll say, 'It works when I do this, but it doesn't work in that situation,' " she said.

The twice-weekly clinic has clients ranging from newborns to 90-year-olds, Ms. Alles said. Maryland has a high-risk registry for identifying newborns who are likely to suffer hearing or other impairments, and babies are usually referred for testing if a risk factor occurs in the family, such as a parent with impaired

hearing.

The clinic gets referrals of children up to age 3 from the county infants and toddlers program for children with developmental delays. Older children are referred by teachers or through hearing screenings in the public schools.

Ms. Alles said the population served by the clinic is probably about two-thirds adult, one-third children.

Many have limited incomes and cannot afford hearing aids. In these cases, the staff turns to local Lions Clubs for donations, said Pat Burnett, director of maternal and child health, whose job includes oversight of the clinic.

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