Down the road comes the Hear Here Alabama mobile audiology clinic. Stocked with equipment and staffed with eager undergrads and professionals, the clinic heads out several times a year from UA to health fairs, county health departments and other places in West and South Alabama to offer hearing screenings and do research in areas where audiology resources are limited.
Now The College of Arts and Sciences is asking the public to help expand the mobile clinic’s mission and reach as part of Bama Blitz, UA’s online fundraising event for alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends. The Hear Here Alabama program is a “passion project” to which Bama Blitz contributors may give directly. Bama Blitz will run from noon on April 10 to 8:31 p.m. on April 11.
“I love making a difference and seeing the look on people’s faces when they get their sense of hearing back,” said Madison McCullough, a senior from Sand Rock who helps run the clinic. “No one thinks about their hearing until it’s gone.”
Research and screenings
The project grew out of the research agenda of Dr. Marcia J. Hay-McCutcheon, associate professor of communicative disorders. After she came to UA in 2008, she started performing research on people with hearing implants. She discovered that because of lack of income and health resources, people with hearing loss in the Black Belt were not getting implants. To continue her research into hearing loss and implants, she had to reach out with more mobile resources.
“Lots of counties don’t have health care resources or hearing health care resources,” she said. “I needed to go to the people rather than have the people come to me.”
So Hay-McCutcheon got the idea for the Hear Here Alabama mobile clinic. The program started in 2013 with $433,000 from UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Research and Economic Development, Academic Affairs and the Center for Economic Development — money earmarked for buying equipment.
Hearing and isolation
Loaded with expensive instruments, the clinic represents a key research tool for Hay-McCutcheon. She and her colleagues have produced papers on hearing and memory, rural populations and social isolation for such publications as the International Journal of Audiology and the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
“We’re looking at hearing loss in general and trying to understand how it’s associated with social interaction,” Hay-McCutcheon said. “It makes sense that if you don’t hear people, you withdraw from social interaction. It’s just too challenging.”
Hay-McCutcheon, audiologist JoAnne Payne and a team of undergrads in the communicative disorders department head out both to offer hearing screenings and, if the participants consent, gather additional data. Each trip costs about $1,000. McCullough joins Hay-McCutcheon in performing screenings in two booths in the quiet environment of the clinic as well as perform crowd control and keep the area tidy. Visitors who fail the hearing tests are offered referrals or discounts to the clinic on the UA campus. Sometimes people getting the screening are in for a surprise.
“I had one man come in and say, ‘My wife says I can’t hear, but my hearing’s fine,’” McCullough said. Of course, his hearing wasn’t fine. “If people fail the screening, we offer a discount to come to UA and get a full evaluation.”
Because the mobile clinic has to go to an area and come back in a day, the range of locations it can visit is limited. Places the truck returns to often include Pine Hill, Demopolis, Livingston and Selma as well as events in Tuscaloosa. The College is asking for donations to allow the truck to visit each community at least once a month over a one-year period. Hay-McCutcheon also would like to expand into Pickens County.
“We’d like to more fully understand what the needs are in the community among professionals who work with people with hearing loss or people who have hearing loss,” Hay-McCutcheon said. “We also need funds for the operation of the truck — not just the upkeep of the truck, but upkeep on the equipment.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.