Hearing aids are expensive; the average price for a good pair ranges from $1,000 to $6,000. For those who can’t afford them or who’s insurance won’t cover them, this can mean not having the precious ability to hear.
Pacific Hearing Connection, a Los Altos-based nonprofit, offers discounted hearing aids to the underserved and underinsured in exchange for them doing community service in their communities as part of a model called “Circle of Giving.”
Audiologists and co-founders of Pacific Hearing Connection, Dr. Debbie Clark and Dr. Jane Baxter, said that they ask their patients to give back to the community by donating their time and talent through community volunteer hours.
“This is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to our supporters and donors, but we’ve found giving back means just as much to our patients,” Clark said.
“Hearing loss often leads to isolation and a feeling of being cut-off socially. When our patients get out into the community to help others, they let us know how much it has meant to them to be a part of the action. They often volunteer much longer than their suggested hours. I’ve also received positive feedback from the organizations served, too, making it a win-win for everyone.”
Untreated hearing loss not only makes it more challenging to live a comfortable life, it can also lead to worse health crises. A National Institute of Health study showed that untreated hearing loss leads to sadness, depression, isolation, emotional insecurity, and even reduced income.
Studies by Frank Lin, M.D. of Johns Hopkins and others indicate a strong association between early cognitive decline and untreated hearing loss. Clark and Baxter said hearing loss can also increase risk of falls, that low frequency hearing loss may indicate an elevated risk of heart disease and stroke, and that over 100 classes of drugs commonly used in the U.S. can damage the inner ear.
Inspired to help alleviate these issues for the Bay Area’s peninsula and surrounding areas, Clark and Baxter founded Pacific Hearing Service in 1977, the for-profit arm of Pacific Hearing Connection. But Clark and Baxter felt compelled to help those that often “fall through the cracks” and can’t access hearing help due to lack of insurance or low income, so they started the nonprofit arm in 2016.
“Most of us became audiologists because we wanted to help people,” Baxter said. “We were fascinated with how technology, science, and psychology come together in one profession to change people’s lives for the better. But, as with any profession, it is easy to get so caught up in the nuts and bolts of daily practice that we lose sight of our ‘why.’ One day a business consultant, responding to our complaints about our frustrations with MediCal, suggested we start our own non-profit. This piqued our interest. What if we could provide access to excellent hearing aid technology and service to people who are falling through the cracks? Suddenly our ‘why’ was reignited.”
Pacific Hearing Connection serves patients of all ages, from children, to older adults and everything in between.
Sometimes, due to health considerations or other life situations, patients are unable to give back by volunteering. In such cases, the organization allows for a loved one, friend, or other person to complete the patients’ volunteer hours on their behalf, or asks that the patient think about everyday acts of kindness they can give freely.
“For most, it’s rewarding to give as well as receive,” Clark said.
While the organization is located in Los Altos, it serves residents all across the Bay Area, including in Saratoga and Los Gatos. If you or someone you know are underserved or underinsured and are in need of hearing healthcare, visit www.pacifichearingconnection.org to learn about becoming a patient.
If you’d like to volunteer for or donate to Pacific Hearing Connection, or an organization you know of has volunteer opportunities that patients can give back to, call 650-434- 2181 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.