Health care and the hearing impaired - help is available
Communication is often vital in medical situations
KINGMAN - Michele Michaels knows what it's like for a patient with hearing loss to struggle during a hospital stay.
Michaels' 71-year-old mother, who could hear sounds but found it difficult to pick out the words when someone talked, was a patient at a hospital in Kansas for a perforated colon that became infected.
It took a week of prodding for Michaels to force the hospital to hang a sign over her mother's bed that said she was couldn't hear well.
"There were two doctors I couldn't convince," said Michaels, whose mother died on the 10th day. "One said that if he talked loud enough, she'd be able to hear him. The other doctor refused to write on a white board we brought in for her. I felt so exhausted having to continually advocate for her and repeat that she couldn't understand the words."
For Michaels, a specialist for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the experience was frustrating. That's why her mission as an advocate for the state agency is so personal. Michaels, who spoke to health care employees at Kingman Regional Medical Center, is committed to making sure they understand the importance of assisting deaf and hard of hearing patients.
The commission, which was established in 1977, is located in Phoenix and serves as a statewide information and referral center for issues related to people with hearing loss.
In Arizona, one out of 10 residents, or about 700,000 people, are deaf or hard of hearing individuals. Of those, 357,000 are over the age of 65. Three out of every 1,000 babies are diagnosed with hearing loss.
Michaels, who is hard of hearing, encouraged hospital employees to provide onsite, state-certified interpreters for patients who can't hear so they can voice their needs and medical situations.
Sean Furman, a specialist for the agency who spoke through a translator, talked about the role of interpreters and how to effectively interact with special needs patients.
"We're trying to hit the rural areas because the people who are deaf and hard of hearing there don't realize what's out there to help them," said Furman, who has been deaf all his life.
"We want to provide them equal access to information that's available for people who can hear. And this is one way to remind the hospitals to be sensitive to the needs of the hearing loss community."
Vicki Thompson, program manager for the agency's Arizona Telecommunications Equipment Program, discussed the variety of free assistive equipment available to state residents, from video and captioned telephones to signaling devices and the state's free relay system. Residents need to take advantage of the programs and devices available to them, she said.
"Because communication is so difficult, these residents often choose not to communicate, and that's not what we want," said Thompson.
For more information about the ACDHH and its free programs, visit www.acdhh.org, www.azrelay.org or www.aztedp.org.