Utah program helps deaf babies to hear

Published: Sunday, July 6 2014 3:23 p.m. MDT

Updated: Sunday, July 6 2014 3:23 p.m. MDT

"In the back of my mind, there's always this worry that she's not developing normally. I just wonder if we are on par with other kids," she said.

But Evie, she said, is "doing very well. She seems like a very happy little girl."

Eligibility for the program is based on a family's gross income, up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, and children on Medicaid are not eligible, as Medicaid covers the cost of hearing aids for kids.

The program targets babies and children up to age 3, as that is the most critical time period for language development.

McVicar said there are about 100 babies born with hearing loss each year in Utah and others develop late-onset hearing loss later in life from underlying conditions or illnesses that occur.

Worldwide, deaf babies are often termed "million-dollar babies," as anticipated lifetime care costs could reach that high, McVicar said.

Rep. Rhonda Menlove, R-Payson, said it is "an expensive process for families, at a time when their earning power is at its least."

Menlove successfully sponsored another hearing-related bill, dealing with cytomegalovirus, which can cause hearing loss in children and did in her own granddaughter, who now wears cochlear implants and is working hard to keep pace with her peers.

A portion of the $100,000 allocated for the program has already helped kids from 22 cities within the state at seven participating clinics, but it is well within its budget, as the devices are less expensive than initially anticipated. The result is an increased opportunity to help more children in need, McVicar told the state's Health and Human Services Interim Committee on Wednesday.

She is ramping up outreach and promotion of the program, including information in packets mailed to families of infants who fail the newborn hearing screening, as health worker would like to help the children who can benefit the most and at the youngest age.

"Early auditory stimulation is important or they won't be able to catch up," McVicar said.

Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, sponsored the original bill, HB157, that created the program and is aiming to file for an extension of the mandate to keep the program going. She said she is encouraged and optimistic about its progress so far. It is slated to end in 2015 without further legislative action.

"I would hate to see it end," Menlove said. Her colleagues on the committee agree, but some would like to see more data before making the program a permanent fixture of the Utah health landscape.

Previous charitable programs have left physicians footing their own bill for overhead costs, but this one is designed to compensate them for their time and expertise, allowing for more respect and support of the program across the industry, she said.

The state's Hearing Aid Recycling Program is still up and running, soliciting used or broken hearing aids from residents that are then recycled and used in Utahns who need them but cannot afford the devices. The downside to it, however, McVicar said, is that patients miss out on leading technology.

So, while Evie may have been able to hear most sounds without hearing aids, they are now helping her hear small sounds like "s" and "t," "and other sounds we take for granted," Shawcroft said.

For more information about the program, visit health.utah.gov/CHAPP or call 801-584-8215.

"There isn't a better time for their brains to grow and develop," McVicar said. "It literally changes their lives to have a program like this."

Shawcroft agrees, calling it a "tender mercy" in her child's life, and she hopes more children and families can benefit from the program in the future.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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