A local organization is working to help people in need improve their hearing.
Ashbrook Hearing Connection offers low-cost services, including hearing screenings and electronic hearing aids that have been repaired and reconditioned. The Harvest Foundation recently provided the nonprofit organization a "Pick Up the Pace" (PUP) grant of $10,000 to help it promote its services.
"We want to help folks who can’t afford hearing health care through traditional means," said Paul Ashbrook, founder/owner/operator of Ashbrook Audiology, with which the organization is affiliated.
To his knowledge, the program is one of only three of its type nationwide.
Certainly "there is no other program like this in the community," said Latala Hodges, communications director for Harvest. "When we saw this (grant request) come across our table, we were really excited about it."
The organization has two components. One is a clinic where patients with hearing problems can be evaluated and provided hearing aids if necessary, with fees charged on a sliding scale based on patients’ ability to pay. The other is a program in which businesses and organizations serve as hearing aid donation sites.
Clinic locations are at Ashbrook Audiology practices in Martinsville and Danville.
"Nothing is given free," Ashbrook said. "Patients will have to pay for something, but it (the amount) will be based on their ability to pay. We can make it work for them."
A patient may be able to get a hearing aid for as little as $75, he said, giving a spur-of-the-moment estimate. Hearing aids often cost in the thousands of dollars, depending on the levels of technology they use, he noted.
"I live with hearing loss myself," Ashbrook continued, "so I know how good they (hearing aids) are, and I know how much of a difference they can make for folks. I hope this program will be an avenue for people to get the help they need."
To help pay off their bills, patients are required to perform certain amounts of community service.
"If folks can’t do the community service," Ashbrook said, "they can have someone do it for them, or others … can complete community service and fill out our service sheets for use toward someone else’s hearing instruments. We hope folks who don’t have any hearing loss can also get involved here."
Based on population data and information he has gleaned from other sources, including patients, Ashbrook estimates there are at least 6,700 people in southern Virginia who could benefit from low-cost hearing care.
Being able to hear well is more important that some people realize, he indicated.
"Hearing is not just about communicating with other people," Ashbrook said. "Sound does a lot of different things for our brains. Think of our brain as a computer – it’s only as good as the information we put in it. If we’re not hearing properly, our brain is not functioning properly."
Hearing loss has been associated with various medical conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, depression and diabetes, Ashbrook said. On the job, it can hurt productivity, he said, noting studies have shown that people who hear well generally do better work, sometimes enabling them to earn higher salaries.
Ashbrook estimated that his organization has helped 10 to 15 people since it was established in August 2013. It has been limited in its ability to reach people due to a lack of financial resources.
The Harvest grant is "the first funding we’ve received," he said. Without money, "we just haven’t been able to promote it well. Now, we’re going to be able to roll this out to the community in a more substantial way."
He predicted that more promotion will mean many more patients and more donations of hearing aids for the organization.
Businesses and organizations that volunteer to be donation sites will receive an emblem to display in windows or other convenient spots. They also will get brochures to place in their offices "so people can read about what we’re doing," Ashbrook said.
"We’re going to make sure everyone who gets involved will be recognized," he said, mentioning that plans are to use the names of "community partners" in communications and marketing materials.
Harvest Executive Director Allyson Rothrock said Ashbrook Hearing Connection is "a unique program in our community that can help so many people improve their quality of life."
"We’re proud to support programs in Martinsville and Henry County that can really make a difference," she said of Harvest.