People ask me all the time how I chose the field of audiology and I had a recent experience with a patient that reinforced exactly why I chose this field. Most people don’t know this but, before I was an audiologist, I spent four years working as a Nursing Home Administrator in Pennsylvania and Westchester County in downstate New York. To prepare for that career I obtained my Masters in Health Policy and Management from Harvard University.
After graduation, while most of my classmates were taking high paying jobs at fancy consulting firms or going to work in government think tanks, I took a position in a 538 bed nursing home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was one of the most humbling and educational experiences of my life. I had the opportunity to get to know some amazing residents who had lead extraordinary lives prior to the decline in their health. I kept these residents in mind with everything I did to ensure their home was as clean, safe, and as satisfying as it could be. After a few years, I realized that, while I enjoyed developing personal relationships with the residents, being a Nursing Home Administrator was not going to be a long term career choice for me and looked to move on to something different.
I spent a long time investigating other options before I chose Audiology. For me, it was the perfect mix of working with technology and people. I didn’t want to give up the joy and satisfaction I received from the personal relationships I developed with my residents and audiology has allowed me to continue to do that.
I came to the University at Buffalo to get my Doctorate in Clinical Audiology and had planned to leave Buffalo as soon as I finished. Instead, I had the opportunity to do a summer rotation at Hearing Evaluation Services (HES), which lead to me completing my residency here. Here I am 11 years later! Coming from a non-profit, mission-driven organizational background, HES was just the right fit for how I believe people should be treated. In my years at HES, I’ve developed some wonderful relationships with my patients and their families. Along with my clinical responsibilities, I also oversee our Resident Training program. Selecting the best Residents for our practice involves looking beyond their clinical skills and at their motivation for why they do this work. One of the things I tell them during their orientation is to always think about how they would want their mother or father to be taken care of. If you always keep this question in your mind, you will always do right by your patient. Everyone at HES, from the front office staff, audiologists, and even the billing office live by this motto. It’s one of the things that really separates us from other audiology practices, but especially from large, retail dispensing outlets or “big box” stores.
These retail outlets spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing and newspaper advertisements to draw in new customers – and it works. Tempting offers such as “Buy One Hearing Aid, Get One Free” and “Save $2000!”, are hard to pass up if you are not a savvy and experienced hearing aid user. You should always ask yourself, “How can they afford to give so much away?” The answer is that they mark things up to outrageous prices to start with. This is why I was so upset recently when I met a woman who had been taken advantage of at one of these local retail hearing aid stores. She was lured in with the promise of a free hearing test and somehow walked out with a set of $6000 hearing aids.
Did they tell her she had an insurance benefit and apply it to the cost of the aids? No. Did they tell her she was buying mid-level technology for a premium price? No. Did they mention that they sold her an older model of a hearing aid that is no longer current technology? No.
HES used to sell the same hearing aids she was wearing from them…last year…for $3500 (including service and warranties).
This woman thought she was getting a bargain. The price started out at almost $7500 and with “promotions and discounts” (including one from the “Head Manager”) they made her feel like she really got a deal.
I was outraged when the full details of this purchase came to light during my appointment with her. So, I armed my patient with all the information she needed to return those hearing aids and lodge a complaint with the New York State Consumer Protection hotline.
This experience reinforced, again, why I love what I do and where I work. You or your loved one will never be tricked, swindled, or taken advantage of like this at HES. And if it happened to you someplace else, come and see us and we will see if we can help you make it right.
Dr. Jill Bernstein, Au.D.