By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
The Center for Hearing & Speech has a long history of adapting its mission to needs in the greater St. Louis community.
Started in 1920 in St. Louis as the League for the Hard of Hearing, it was at first a social group for young adults with impaired hearing. But its mission quickly morphed into something much more profound: Building community awareness of the hearing-impaired community and teaching lip-reading.
By the 1950s, it was offering hearing evaluations and speech pathology. The center offered the first speech/language focused preschool for children, which it ran until school districts took over that function.
By the time the center moved from St. Louis to Rock Hill in 1972, it was screening children as young as four for hearing and undetected vision problems. The center also began dispensing hearing aids about that time.
Today, the center screens an average of 10,000 children a year, said Rita Tintera, executive director. It works with about 325 children and youth who need speech therapy, and it provides audiology services – hearing tests and assistive devices – to approximately 1,800 people of all ages. The vast majority of its clients receive financial assistance that pays the bulk of their fees or equipment costs.
The center also is working with Grace Hill Health Centers to provide audiology services that will be more accessible to residents of north St. Louis and north St. Louis County. An audiologist currently works at Grace Hill one day a week, but that will expand to five days over the next three years.
The center also has been a pioneer in supplementing United Way funding, donations and grants with its own social enterprise. Its industrial hearing conservation program serves companies where employees work in noisy environments, such as factories.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration requires such companies to provide screening, education and hearing protection for their employees. The center provides those services for a fee to companies in locations as distant as 250 miles or more from the center. The service, which reaches 20,000 to 26,000 workers annually, provides approximately $100,000 to help underwrite the center’s other services.
“We feel very good that this is aligned with our mission,” Tintera said.
Like other providers of hearing devices and speech therapies, the center battles the stigma that its clients often feel if they are diagnosed with hearing loss or a need for speech therapy.
“From the time a person is told they have a hearing loss until they take action is approximately seven years,” Tintera said.
Some clients feel that if they wear a hearing aid, people will think they’re old or not as sharp. What they don’t realize is that their quality of life may be degraded by not being able to hear or understand other people.
“By not being amplified, you’re deciding your own fate,” Tintera said.
Some families are in denial because they don’t want anything to be wrong with their children. But if the child doesn’t “grow out of a problem,” they also may have difficulty in school or with social situations, she said.
The center works to overcome such hesitancy by offering screenings and education to the public. It also spreads the word through agencies that serve veterans and seniors. Hearing loss is the most common disability for veterans.
For those under its care, the center tracks outcomes using national standards. And as a small nonprofit, it can spend more time with clients to help them adjust to their hearing aids or therapy, Tintera said.
“One thing that makes us successful is the ability to spend the time to get people to understand their hearing loss and how to wear hearing aids,” Tintera said. “We don’t want them to get a hearing aid and put it in a drawer.”
The same applies to speech therapy. “If a child needs special attention, it’s easy for a therapist to come to talk to me” or to the finance director, Tintera said.
“Everyone here is mission-focused,” Tintera said.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. This year’s TORCH Award Luncheon will be Oct. 14 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St .Louis. For more information, click here.