N.C. Hearing Loss Team meets with lawmakers on Capitol Hill

On Nov. 14, 2013, Craig Buchman, MD, and Kathryn Wilson, MA, from the UNC School of Medicine, together with Joni Alberg, PhD, from Beginnings, a North Carolina non-profit working with families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing, met with N.C. Senator Richard Burr and presented a Congressional Hearing Health Caucus Lunch Briefing in Washington, D.C.

During the meetings, Buchman, Wilson, and Alberg laid out North Carolina's successful model approach to the early identification and intervention for hearing loss in children and described the many challenges that face families of children born in other states throughout the U.S.

Below are some of the messages that the N.C. Hearing Loss team relayed to their audience in Washington, D.C.

Hearing loss is a serious health condition that affects more than 34 million Americans; however, it is often overlooked when health care issues are considered in Congress. In fact, hearing loss is among the most prevalent birth conditions in America—affecting 3 in 1,000 births. An increasing number of younger people are experiencing hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise. In addition, hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the number one injury that soldiers experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that untreated hearing impairment costs the U.S. economy $56 billion in lost productivity, special education, and medical care.

Newborn infant hearing screening programs have been established in most states in the U.S. In North Carolina, testing was mandated in 1999 and implemented in 2001 because early identification and intervention in children with hearing loss  improves a child's potential for developing age-appropriate language.

Today, more than 99.7% of children born in N.C. (>97% in the U.S.) are screened for hearing loss. Ideally, following confirmation of a child’s hearing loss, the family  receives information regarding all communication options, resources, and intervention strategies, including treatment with hearing aids or cochlear implants and the initiation of an early intervention program appropriate for developing spoken language or sign language, depending on the family’s choice. To maximize the child’s potential for developing skills in parallel with typical peers,  parents must receive accurate, unbiased information immediately following diagnosis so that they can make decisions that are appropriate for their child and family.

Dr. Buchman, from the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, and Kathryn Wilson, from the Division of Speech & Hearing Sciences in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, discussed with Senator Burr and others the challenges facing many families of children with newly identified hearing loss. While North Carolina is widely recognized as a model state for programs that provide comprehensive information and resources, in other states families fail to receive full disclosure regarding access to the various technologies, communication approaches, and intervention strategies available. Lack of information can impede access to the needed services and can ultimately  result in life long speech and language delays, limited educational achievement and reduced employment opportunities. A variety of federal solutions were discussed for this problem and further action is sure to come in the wake of this fruitful day of exchange.