Hearing the Call for Help
For Rachel Clayton, the Midwest has always been home. The
audiologist has been with the Constance Brown Hearing Center,
(CBHC), in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the length of her professional
career. A Michigan native, Rachel went to college in her home
state, attended Indiana University for her Masters, followed by a
CFY, (clinical fellowship year), at the Henry Ford Hospital in
"I am one of the few audiologists I know that was certain
from a young age that this was the career I wanted," she says.
Rachel's mother experienced hearing loss, and was very active
in the Hearing Loss Association of America (formerly SHHH,
Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People).
"My mother had an amazing audiologist, who taught me about
the profession and encouraged me," Rachel remembers. "The
most gratifying thing about this career is that I know I am
improving lives-patients often tell me how much they appreciate
what I have done for them. Some of them even send me letters and
notes, which is so touching."
" I consider audiology a helping profession-it just has
intrinsic rewards for those who practice it," she says.
"The frustration comes in knowing that we can help those with
hearing loss, but we cannot cure them. We can't take the
Making A Difference
"When you have a good audiologist, it's amazing
what a difference it can make in your life."
One of Rachel's patients is Bob Ramsdell, a retired chemical
manufacturer. When Bob experienced bi-lateral hearing loss twenty
years ago, his whole world changed. Bob had spent a long career at
the pharmaceutical company Upjohn (now Pfizer) in Kalamazoo. But
his hearing loss forced him to start all over at a new job in a
different division in the company.
"Hearing aids were not as good as they are now," he
remembers, "It was tough. I was transferred to the computer
division because my hearing loss prevented me from working on the
manufacturing floor. I had to learn everything from the ground
Socially, it was also difficult for Bob to adjust.
"Suddenly, you are perceived differently, and it is hard to
meet new people. Most shy away from those with a disability, which
can be hurtful," he says.
Bob sought help from the Constance Brown Hearing Center, (CBHC),
a not-for-profit agency offering comprehensive hearing services,
which includes diagnostic testing, prescriptions for hearing aids
and specialized programs.
Building the Clinician-Patient Relationship
Rachel has been Bob's audiologist for the last nine years,
and she has seen him through several sets of hearing aids.
"Bob is a very active user," says Rachel, "and
between his working conditions and the weather here in Michigan,
he's had a number of problems with his hearing aids that are
related to moisture and humidity."
"Rachel is excellent," says Bob. "She works
incredibly well with us, and consistently goes that extra mile to
make sure we are well cared for." For example, he explains,
when his hearing aids stopped functioning, Rachel provided him with
a set of loaners and took over the onerous process of making sure
the repairs were done correctly.
"The manufacturer could not find the problem, and sent the
hearing aids back," he recalls. "Rachel wouldn't
accept that response. She stood up for us, sent the hearing aids
back to the manufacturer multiple times, until they finally
discovered and fixed the problem."
According to Rachel, "The process took several months, and
Bob and his wife Jo were incredibly patient, and kept their
frustration in check. It's tough because you're relying on
a lab for a solution, and you're just an agent. I kept him in
loaner hearing aids, but really he was just getting by in
"It makes such an enormous difference to have the right
kind of care and quality hearing aids," he reflects. "You
don't even realize the sounds you were missing. Suddenly you
can hear the birds, not just traffic noises. You can follow
conversations and communicate. When you have a good audiologist,
it's amazing what a difference it can make in your
Hearing Help: Out of Reach for Many
According to Bob Ramsdell, the average pair of bi-lateral
hearing aids costs him around $1,400. Insurance pays for only a
portion of that expense. "I have really good health
insurance," he explains, "but it covers only about $500
of the cost of my hearing aids. Combined with the testing and all
the other things required, it can really get expensive for a lot of
people. I am lucky to be able to get what I need."
His wife Jo agrees. "The technology is so good
nowadays," she says, "everything you need is out there to
help those with hearing disabilities. But it's just
unaffordable for many."
This includes many of the people currently getting service from
CBHC, who the Ramsdells would see on a regular basis when they came
in for appointments.
"As a non-profit, we serve many low-income families that
need financial assistance to cover the cost of treating their
hearing impairment," says Kim Loftus, Director of Development
and Communications. Because of the depressed economy in her state,
she believes the need in Michigan is especially acute.
"We are experiencing a single-state recession here,"
she explains. "With the troubles in the auto and manufacturing
industries, we have the third-highest unemployment in the country,
and the state has cut back on hearing assistance programs. So the
demand is growing."
Michigan is also one of the few states in which newborn hearing
screenings are not required by law, so patients, hoping to save
money, waive the testing at the hospital and have it done at CBHC
instead. "So we get lots of newborn babies here," says
Kim, "both the ones that have never had the screening and
those who require more comprehensive testing and care." Of the
8,600 patients CBHC serves each year, more than 4,000 are children
The Ramsdells: Doing Their Part
Bob and Jo understand first-hand the difficulties and challenges
of hearing loss, and have seen at CBHC how dramatically it can
affect lives, especially those of children.
"If children can't hear, they lose a lot of their
ability to understand and their ability to learn anything in
school," he says. "That can also lead to low self-esteem.
Other people no longer understand their value as human beings, and
all that they can contribute. According to Bob, It doesn't need
to be that way. If they get everything they need, they can build
self-confidence, which will help them a great deal. Wearing hearing
aids can become very natural to them, just like wearing a hat, with
no need to feel self-conscious or different from others."
At the hearing center, the couple would often speak to families
in the waiting room who were struggling to afford services and
devices for their children. They made it a priority to help these
children, and worked with Rachel Clayton and then Kim Loftus to
figure out a way to ease that financial strain.
The Ramsdells made a generous donation to the center, which
became the seed money for the CBHC Children's Hearing Services
Assistance Fund. The Fund covers hearing aids and hearing tests for
Raising Awareness, Helping Others
To raise awareness about the need to assist low-income families,
CBHC enlisted Rachel and others at the center to help. They began a
more visual fundraising campaign around the offices and waiting
areas, displaying posters and placing scrapbooks featuring pictures
of children receiving their hearing aids in the waiting rooms.
The Ramdells needed little convincing. Since that initial
generosity, they have doubled their gift to CBHC by taking
advantage of Bob's former employer's giving program, which
matches the money donated by their employees. According to Kim
Loftus, the Ramsdell's gift continues to pay the couple's
generosity forward, inspiring other foundation to make their own
contributions to the Children's assistance fund.
The couple could not be more pleased with how things have worked
out. "This is so important to us, to be able to help,"
says Jo. "It is really special. We have gotten some updates
and thank you notes from the children we have helped. One even drew
a picture for us-a happy little girl with brown hair tied in a
ponytail, smiling as she stands in front of her house."
For her part, Rachel is grateful she gets to treat patients like
Bob Ramsdell. "When I see his name on my appointment schedule
I just light up," she says. "They are both so upbeat,
always so happy to see me."
"Some people let their hearing disability govern their
life, or they cut themselves off from society. The Ramdsells are
not like that. They don't let the problem rule their life-they
just deal with it, and use their experience to help