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Addressing health inequalities in Arizona with hearing-based project

The project began when Arizona State University received a donation of new hearing aids but did not have funding for testing and fitting.

Listen to the music - earbuds. — Photo: © Tim Sandle
Listen to the music - earbuds. — Photo: © Tim Sandle

A new project has been initiated by the University of Arizona to provide hearing health care to low-income adults. This helps to address an economic-triggered health inequality in the U.S.

Hearing aids are often prohibitively expensive for people without insurance, sometimes costing as much as $3,000. This places the devices out of the reach of those abandoned by the inequities of the U.S. liberal market healthcare model.

The University of Arizona Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences is seeking to redress this imbalance. The academic institution has partnered with the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing to establish the Hearing Healthcare Assistance Project.

The objective is to provide free hearing healthcare for eligible people 21 and older lacking insurance.

Picking up on the driver for this, Amy Wheeler, an audiologist at the UArizona Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences Clinic states: “When patients cannot communicate well with others, it can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.”

Wheeler adds: “Not being able to communicate can also lead to difficulties with employment, which in turn can have a large impact on that patient and their loved ones. It is a heart-breaking thing to know what treatment would lead to a great outcome for your patient and not be able to get it to them due to cost. With this project, there is a new way for me to get my patients the treatment they need.”

The project began when Arizona State University received a donation of new hearing aids but did not have funding for testing and fitting. The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing stepped in and developed the Hearing Healthcare Assistance Project to fund diagnostic audiology, hearing aid fitting and follow-up appointments, and provide free aural rehabilitation, establishing this project.

The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing serves as the statewide bureau of information referral center for issues related to people with hearing loss. Those eligible are referred by the commission to the nearest state university participating in the project. In scenarios where applicants already have access to hearing health resources, the project can also assist them in navigating their options.

The UArizona clinic offers focuses on diagnosis, counseling, hearing aid selection and fitting, as well as follow-up care.

The initiative is only guaranteed over the short term. Wheeler and the department are working to secure long-term funding for the project.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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