ASHTABULA — When the Speech, Hearing and Rehabilitation Center closed its Donahoe Drive location last spring, the “community felt the loss of the services” provided there, said Judith Barris, executive director of Community Action Agency.
The agency bought and renovated the building and, on Wednesday, unveiled a newly updated audiology center, along with several new tools and one employee from the old center.
“We try to look at the needs of the community — where there may be gaps — and we try to meet those needs with services or programs that we develop,” said Carmen Kuula, director of resource and program development for the agency.
After the closure of the facility, which had received referrals from several county health and developmental organizations, Barris told the Star Beacon that her first thought was for the agency’s Head Start participants. Those youths require a host of medical evaluations — hearing is one.
She said the need for a stable audiology and speech program to handle all these cases was greater than the services available in the county.
“If (Head Start students) didn’t pass their screenings, a referral was given to the parents, but many times, the parents didn’t follow up on those screenings,” she said. “My thought was if we had this service ourselves, then we’d ensure children received further services, which only helps them go on with their lives.”
She said the agency will look to expand services in the new center, however, it was revealed Wednesday with an array of new devices.
A brand new soundproof booth, for locational audio and audio frequency tests, replaced a more than 25-year-old device in the old center. A ramp for wheelchair accessibility will be installed in the future. A nearby tympanometer can detect fluid in the inner ear, which can greatly affect hearing or speech after cold or allergy congestion or in asthmatics. Hearing aids can also be fitted and administered at the new facility.
Cindy Lanning, a 13-year audiologist who was retained from the old center, said hearing impairment — if left unaddressed — can lead to many developmental setbacks.
“It’s a ripple effect,” she said. “You’re going to have behavioral issues in school, because the kids are going to act out because they’re bored because they can’t hear. ... The old way was to think they were challenged mentally, when they were just hearing impaired.
“We’ve had kids that have done very well; where they had a problem, get hearing aids and, suddenly, school that they hated and fought over — they’re not hating so much. ‘This is fun, I can do this.’”
The new center cost around $50,000, Barris said, and paid for by a loan to the agency. The agency paid separately to install new carpeting and apply a fresh coat of paint, she added.
The agency chose to cut the ribbon on the new facility Wednesday because the date — Feb. 11, or “211 Day” — is one for reminding community members about the simple, free, 3-digit phone number which can connect them with more than 800 health, human service or governmental assistance programs. Kuula said Community Action Agency, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, averages around 16,000 calls a year.
“The most common (needs) are food, housing, transportation and utility assistance,” she said. “But it can range from support groups to after school classes — they just want to know, ‘Where do I go to find this service?’ ”
The local agency administers assistance programs like WIC, weatherization, senior nutrition, Head Start, Early Head Start, empowerment workshops and a CDL license academy.
The agency’s database of assistance program providers is also searchable online at 211Ashtabula.org.