Jewell Cardwell

Do you hear what I hear?

If a guest at Akron’s Haven of Rest Ministries homeless shelter does not hear well, fortunately there is a team of well-credentialed volunteers, ready to do what they can to improve guests’ hearing health so they can live more fulfilling lives and open more doors.

At least, that’s their goal, their prayer.

An excited Kristina English, a professor of audiology at the University of Akron who also holds a doctorate, shared the news of an incredible gift, introducing me to those making it happen and a few potential beneficiaries.

Two graduate students, Peytra Osetinsky and Lorie D’Elia, president and vice president of the Student Academy of Audiology, were at Haven of Rest last week to deliver six assisted listening devices (also known as “pocket talkers”) that they and others in their student organization purchased through a series of fundraisers, including a 5K run.

This outreach was a direct result of Sally A. Missimi, who holds a doctorate and is a registered nurse and director of community benefit, Summa Health System, asking “now what?” after screenings uncovered hearing losses among some of the Haven of Rest guests.

The students got busy, determined to find a solution.

“They had an opportunity to purchase these devices that are no longer being manufactured at a much lower price,” English said, gushing with pride. “The students did all of this on their own!”

Osetinsky from Kent State University and D’Elia from the University of Akron are members of NOAC, the Northeast Au.D Consortium, which also includes the Cleveland Clinic. NOAC offers doctoral degrees in audiology.

“There are only three such programs in the country,” English noted, adding that Dr. Erin Miller is program coordinator.

Haven of Rest’s Rose Rose and Jim Cole said the hard-wired, battery-operated devices with microphones and receivers have the potential of opening up a whole new world for guests who are hard of hearing and who have no means of purchasing traditional hearing aids. Rose is the nonprofit’s community relations coordinator and Cole is director of the men’s division. “We’re just so delighted we will now be able to communicate with them,” Cole said. “Before, there wasn’t a lot we could do …

“Many times people who can’t hear nod or they are noncompliant. This is why this is such a great gift!”

“It’s a real blessing,” Rose added.

“Now persons at the Haven of Rest who have hearing loss will have access to the assisted listening devices to help them hear better during their doctor appointments, interviews at agencies and so on,” English said.

Case-by-case basis

Multiple people can use the headset devices, as they’ll be loaned out on a case-by-case basis. “And there is no hygiene issue” as there might be with hearing aids that fit inside the ear, English said.

“They’re very user-friendly,” Osetinsky pointed out.

On a recent day, hearing screenings for guests who wanted them were being conducted by other graduate student volunteers from the NOAC, Sarah Blue from UA and Sarah Canessa from KSU. Like other medical services provided to male guests at Haven of Rest and female guests at its companion Harvest Home, screenings take place in Summa’s mobile health unit, which is equipped with two full exam rooms and two soundproof booths for on-the-spot hearing tests.

Dr. Russell Platt — a physician with considerable experience under his belt — regularly works on the mobile health unit through the Ask A Doctor program. “We have a lot of clients open up to him with information they don’t tell their own doctor,” Missimi marveled. “Some of that has to do with Dr. Platt having more time to listen to them. And he encourages them to follow through. … He’s one of our special people.”

Canessa and Blue ushered client after client into the single-seat, windowed, soundproof booths and were able to witness firsthand the instant gratification on the client’s faces as they experienced hearing improvement with the pocket talker.

“It feels great, as first-year students, to have the opportunity to experience this so soon,” Blue said after completing an evaluation on a 47-year-old Harvest Home guest.

“I know I talk loud,” the woman said, “but that’s because I have trouble hearing what I’m saying.”

It’s been that way practically all of her life, she said, and she embraced the pocket talker concept.

Hopefully it may be a bridge to having a more permanent hearing device for these clients in the future.

The assisted listening devices are available free to clients through a sign-out program, compared with the cost of a hearing aid, which can range from $1,000 to $3,000 per ear.

While there’s no guarantee that these devices will be the tool to move Haven of Rest clients with hearing problems out of poverty overnight, it at least brings them into the conversation to hear what is possible.

And that’s a true beginning.

Sounds like hope to me!

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or jcardwell@thebeaconjournal.com