By David H. Kirkwood
I had a most enjoyable conversation the other day with Anna Gilmore Hall, the new executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). She’s been in that position for only a month or two ago, and is quick to acknowledge that she’s still learning the territory.
Our get-acquainted talk was one of many that the new director has been having with people in the hearing care field. These conversations offer her a chance to gather insights from people who, in one capacity or another, have extensive experience with hearing, hearing loss, and hearing care.
From my perspective as editor of HearingHealthMatters.org, our discussion was useful because it gave me a general sense of what Anna sees as the top challenges and priorities for HLAA.
Having grown up with a father who had a severe, untreated hearing loss, Anna has first-hand understanding of the difficulties that hard-of-hearing people and their family members face. However, unlike some past HLAA directors who had worked in a hearing-related field, her background is in a different area of healthcare. She was trained and worked as a nurse, and was also certified in association management.
She has spent more than 20 years managing non-profit organizations, including, most recently, Practice Greenhealth, a national healthcare organization that seeks to empower members to increase their efficiencies and environmental stewardship while improving patient safety and care.
A FRESH PERSPECTIVE
While listening to what Anna said about HLAA, I found it interesting to hear the perspective of someone who has joined the organization from outside.
I’ve been observing and writing about HLAA since 1990. I understand and admire the valuable work it does in helping people with hearing loss lead more fulfilling lives and in fighting to eliminate the stigma associated with hearing loss. It seems that nearly everyone I associate with professionally is also familiar with the organization.
However, that is not at all true beyond the small portion of the population I generally hear from. In our phone conversation, Anna pointed out that HLAA is reaching fewer than 50,000 people—a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of Americans with hearing loss. So, viewing the situation from her perspective as a newcomer, Anna contends, “We are not nearly as well known as we should be. You might say we are the best kept secret in the world.”
During her short time with the organization, she has already heard members say things like “HLAA saved my life” or “Thanks to you, I got my life back.” But, she notes, too many other people who might be able to gain the same benefit from HLAA don’t even know it exists. That’s why Anna wants to use social media and other tools to raise the association’s profile.
SHARE THE “SECRET”
Clearly, trying to expand its membership is not a brand new idea for HLAA. And, if it were easy to accomplish (without a big marketing budget), I’m sure the association would have many more members and chapters and subscribers to its publications than it does. However, I agree with Anna Hall that it’s time for HLAA to step up its efforts to reach more of the people whose needs it could meet.
No doubt there are many ways to do this. However, a great many of you who are reading this are uniquely well positioned to spread the word about HLAA. What’s more, you have plenty of incentive to do so.
I am specifically addressing this to the thousands of health care practitioners, who on a daily basis see people with hearing loss, as well as their spouses and other family members. Do you make them aware of the local HLAA chapter (if there is one) and of the national association and what it offers?
You should—both for their sake and yours. No matter how good you are at selecting and fitting hearing aids and at counseling and educating patients, there are topics that you don’t have time to address that HLAA can.
For example, patients who go to a chapter meeting or read HLAA literature can learn about listening strategies that will help them make better use of the hearing they have. They may also get information about assistive technology that complements the benefits they get from the hearing aids you fitted on them. They may learn which local theaters run captioned movies and what public facilities have hearing loops. In addition, they may enjoy the camaraderie and empathy that are such an important feature of HLAA gatherings.
Granted, many of your patients are probably not comfortable talking about their hearing loss. They may have no interest in an affinity group of hard-of-hearing people. That’s fine, but at least let them know that HLAA exists so they can decide whether or not to learn more about it.
Why does it benefit you when your patients get involved with HLAA? Well, for one thing, what they learn is likely to improve their satisfaction with their hearing aids—and with the person who fitted them. Also, when hearing aid wearers get together, they often share notes about their “doctors.” Don’t you want to get your name out there among people with hearing loss?
Finally, the most important reason for recommending HLAA to patients is that it will result in some of those who heed your words leading happier and more fulfilling lives. Isn’t that what you want for them?