To continue our celebration of May being Better Speech and Hearing Month, we recently caught up with the Vancouver Community Audiology team providing pediatric care and how they adapted during the pandemic.
Vancouver Community Audiology provides pediatric services from birth through age 19 years. A key component of their services is diagnostic testing through the BC Early Hearing Program for babies who fail the newborn hearing screening. Effective March 23, the team had to discontinue all direct patient services due to COVID19, including these tests for newborn babies.
After a process of risk assessment led by Dreena Davies, Vancouver Community Regional Audiology Coordinator and endorsed by their managers, the team decided to resume the newborn hearing tests as time-sensitive urgent services. They spent the first weeks of April carefully reorganizing the booking procedures, schedule, waiting room, and clinical space to allow for safe and comfortable visits for patients and their families. Audiologists were fully trained in the skills of donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE) and heightened infection control practices to meet COVID-19 standards. On April 27, 2020 the team welcomed back their first infant patients and their parents.
We recently caught up with Sara, a Clinical Audiologist to learn more about her passion for the role and how she feels the team has adapted to the new ways of delivering care.
"I feel like our team has adapted quite well," she says. "We are seeing fewer patients to allow for physical distancing and extra infection control time, along with taking time to don and doff PPE." Sara notes the biggest drawback is having the mouth covered when working with people with hearing loss. "They can no longer lip read or use those visual cues but we are learning and finding ways to adapt," she says. Sara hasn't experienced any fearful reactions from patients yet as they are mostly infants but she anticipates that possibility as she starts to see more toddlers and preschoolers in the future. "I'll likely use my usual tricks for nervous kids: lots of distractions, toys, parents blowing bubbles, and when all else fails, getting out of sight on the tester side of the sound booth."
In a typical work day, Sara can perform an electrophysiologic hearing assessment of an infant, fit hearing aids on a teenager and perform play audiometry with a preschooler. "I enjoy the variety," she says. "Working with kids keeps you on your toes!"
Sara joined Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) in July 2007. "I'm lucky enough that I graduated right at the time that the BC Early Hearing Program was rolling out and creating new positions. Not many people get to start out in their dream job", she says.
There are many rewarding moments for Sara in her role but she highlights that the initial hearing aid fittings can be very emotional. Seeing the child's reaction to experiencing sound for the first time and experiencing that journey with the families is an inspirational occurrence she doesn't take for granted.
So how does the Vancouver Community Audiology team incorporate the VCH's values (We Care for Everyone, We Are Always Learning, and We Strive for Better Results)? "We do our best to provide family centered care that is, at the same time, rooted in evidence based practices," explains Sara. Along with a supportive team environment, she feels very lucky to have a wonderful supervisor and incredible colleagues. "We truly feel like a team in everything that we do."
VCH sends a big kudos to all the audiologists who have adapted with grace and flexibility to the changes that we are facing in health care!