COURTESY OF HEARING AID CENTER
The Hearing Aid Center at Kaiser's Honolulu clinic opened Nov. 30. Ah Quon McElrath, the first patient, talks with Dr. Karl Pregitzer, medical director of Kaiser's New Ventures Development Department.
Hearing center opens at Kaiser
The Honolulu service has been in the works for a number of years
Social activist Ah Quon McElrath turned her powers of persuasion on Kaiser Permanente to help open a hearing aid center and was its first customer.
Dr. Karl Pregitzer, medical director of Kaiser's New Ventures Development Department, said he had been trying six or seven years to get a hearing aid program, among other new services.
"She has been bugging me the last three or four years," he said with a laugh, referring to the retired ILWU social worker and activist.
McElrath, who was 91 on Dec. 15, was at the center's grand opening Nov. 30 and "we made sure she was our first patient," Pregitzer said.
McElrath was fitted for a digital hearing aid Wednesday and the next day said: "There was a howl of joy when I heard the telephone last night downstairs. I was in my bedroom."
She said she has some problems but she is keeping a list of them for her return visit to the center.
"They want me to keep it on all day long," she said, "then before I go to bed, put it in a charger to recharge the batteries. ... It's supposed to last a whole year."
Technology on hearing aids is changing rapidly, McElrath noted: "The whole thing is programmed in. It's not like old hearing aids any more. It's probably going to work all right."
The hearing aid center is on the first floor of Kaiser's Honolulu Clinic. It's open part-time with audiologist Kathleen H. Campbell and assistant Jeni Kauahi.
Pregitzer, also vice president of the Hawaii Permanente Medical Group, said plans are to expand to full-time, but audiologists are difficult to find in Hawaii.
"We're trying to set the program up so we can give very good access to customers that purchase hearing aids, to make sure they fit and function properly and increase their use dramatically," Pregitzer said.
In the past, he said, Kaiser members would get a diagnostic test from Kaiser but had to go outside the hospital to purchase a hearing device. "They didn't like doing that."
He said members "trust us and like to get all their services from us, even if they're not covered by the health plan. We're trying to identify these areas and trying to supply these services to patients."
The hearing aid center is the third new hospital program established by his department, managed by Jeanne Talbot, he said. Others were laser vision correction, operated out of the ophthalmology department, and cosmetic dermatology.
Pregitzer said he had no trouble getting the hearing aid center started but "could only handle one (new program) at a time." He's looking at plastic surgery for the next new Kaiser service, he said.
Patients must have a hearing evaluation, a covered benefit, before going to the Hearing Aid Center.
A range of hearing aids are available at different prices, as well as assisted-listening devices and ear molds. They aren't covered by the health plan but Pregitzer said, "It's a service we offer ... hopefully at a much lower rate than outside with higher quality."
Total costs for her hearing aid, including programming and other services, were more than $5,000, McElrath said: "But I'm willing to take a chance on it and my kids are happy with it." And she's happy other people at Kaiser now can get their hearing aids there, she added.