When the Pandemic hit, we all found ourselves in unprecedented times. As leadership scrambled to figure out how to keep us all safe, the world began to shut down, closing schools, stores, and all non-essential services. Many medical practices were unsure where they fell in the spectrum – dentists, audiologists, opticians, and more were left seriously concerned about their patients’ wellbeing if they were to close their doors.
Victoria Evans from MedPB spoke to Bridget Garrido, Au.D. President of the Louisiana Academy of Audiology and audiologist at Acadian Hearing.
Late in March, Louisiana cases were increasing at a rate faster than anywhere else in the world. With over 28 years of experience as an audiologist, Dr. Garrido sums up the audiologists’ concerns in her area.
Acadian Hearing is unique. It is an audiologist-owned practice that was started over 30 years ago by Steve Morris and is now owned by Heidi Sorrells and does all facets of audiology from new-borns to dizziness, and occupational and hearing healthcare.
How Have We Been Affected by COVID-19?
Just like everybody in the country, probably the world, we shut down because we couldn’t figure out if we were essential or not. It was a very tough decision and not one that Dr. Sorrells took lightly. She sought advice from many places, but the guidance from the National and State Organizations was so vague. “Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to close down during the stay-at-home order.”
Acadian Hearing had luckily invested in a second location in Greater New Orleans just before the lockdowns began and were lucky to continue seeing patients at a limited capacity.
The Louisiana Board of Speech and Hearing is the governing body for all hearing services. When asked for guidance, they could only reiterate what was being said by the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) at the time, which was also very vague.
What Are Our Biggest Concerns as the Epidemic Progresses?
The biggest concerns going forward are access for our patients, whether we’re considered essential or non-essential, if a patient is suffering from dizziness, such as from an inner-ear disorder, we don’t want them to land up in the emergency room from a fall during a pandemic.
We also don’t want patients to not reach out for help when they need it, out of fear. People who have a hearing loss need to reach out now more than ever to not miss out on essential messages for their safety. To stay abreast of the news and keep connected to friends and loved ones in different households, the hearing-impaired need to have devices that work correctly.
With everyone wearing face-masks, it has become an enormous struggle for the hearing-impaired to understand what is being communicated around them.
So What Are We Doing to Help Our Patients?
We reached out to our database of patients one by one to see if they needed help. During the seven weeks of closure, we called everyone on our patient list or who had bought hearing aids from us over the last few years and contacted them personally to see how they were doing, what their issues were, and to see how we could assist them.
We are trying to offer no-contact services for hearing aid care. Using the remote programming capabilities of certain hearing aid manufacturers, we now have access to extra tools and features we may not have had before. We came up with out-of-the-box solutions to ensure our patients’ needs were being met, whether through our Curbside Service or our hearing aid drop-box, Teleaudiology, and finally access to our clinics with proper precautions.
Also, touching base with mothers who gave birth over this time whose new-borns may have failed their hospital hearing screenings and make sure that they don’t slip through the cracks. These babies must have their hearing tests before 4/5 months old, after which it becomes a challenge to test them.
What Will the Next Few Months Look Like for Audiology Practices in Our State?
With proper scheduling, we are accessing our patients and treating their conditions. We’ve caught up on our backlog of new-born infants in Southwest Louisiana; we’re the only ones testing them in a hundred miles.
Keeping abreast of our protocols and safety measures, educating ourselves, and staying on top of our communication. An example of this is when we organized through the Louisiana Academy, a session where we could watch Callier Institute in Dallas, Texas, present their protocols for sanitation. All to ensure that we are implementing the best practices that we can with limited guidelines.
What Separates Us?
We are experts in communication, and as such, we want to make sure that we are not doing our communities and patients the disservice of shutting down. People want and need contact from us right now, and we aim to help in whatever way we can because we genuinely care for all our patients’ wellbeing.
Although the world may look a little different, our practices will undoubtedly come back and thrive as they always have. We strive to innovate to ensure our patients have access to the care they need and deserve.