Beck: Hi Tani. Thanks for your time today!
Austin: Hi Doug. Youre welcome and thank you for Audiology Online!
Beck: Tani, I am so pleased to have the chance to speak with you about the amazing work you do with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, and the tens of thousands of people that benefit from your efforts. But before we start talking about the Foundation, Id like to learn a little about your background. Wasnt your mom a hearing aid dispenser?
Austin: Yes, she is. Pat Manhart is my mother. She started dispensing in the early 1960s, and in fact she still dispenses in California. She was a Dahlberg/Miracle Ear dispenser, and my step-father was president of Dahlberg/Miracle Ear back in the early 1970s. She has always been politically active, she was a proctor for the state exam and held many positions with the State. Ive been around hearing aids, hearing impaired people and hearing issues since I was about 5 years old! I loved everything about it, and the example my mom set was inspirational tooShe used to invite her patients (and pretty much anyone without a place to go for the holidays) to have dinner with us. Some of them became our gardeners, babysitters and lifetime friends. We adopted people in need and it was fabulous. I think some of those experiences helped to set me up for the Foundation and the work we do!
Beck: And just to clarify, youre also a licensed dispenser?
Austin: Yes. I am licensed in three states, Minnesota, Montana and Illinois. I opened my practice in 1982, and actually I started as a Miracle Ear practice, following in my moms footsteps. I got my first license in 1984 when Illinois became a licensed state. After a little while, I got involved with licensing as a proctor for Illinois, and I was secretary for the State Hearing Aid Society, and so I got more and more involved with licensure issues.
Beck: I thought you had moved to Texas, somewhere along the way?
Austin: Yes, thats right. I sold my practice and moved to Dallas in 1992. The practice was very busy. We had three offices and we did about a million dollars in revenue, so it was very nice and we had really built it up.
Beck: I guess thats about the time you met Bill?
Austin: Yes. I knew Bill from the industry. One day I saw him waiting at a gate in an airport, and I started talking to him. I recall telling him about my concerns with customer care, and doing the best job possible for the patients. Bill had so many ideas and thoughts about how to take care of patients, and how to do a better job with customer service, and everything was very exciting. Bill totally focused on the patients, their needs, and how to problem solve. I was very impressed. About 6 months later, I went to a class at Starkey in Minneapolis, and the class was a technology-oriented class, with a focus on customer service, and it was just fantastic! Its like I had been living in black and white and then all of a sudden I was living in color.it was wonderful!
Beck: Wowreminds me of the Wizard of Oz!
Austin: Yes, it really was like that. Bill always says when you place the patient first, its best for the patient, its best for the profesional, and its best for the industry. If you place the patient first, you cannot go wrong. After that class at Starkey, I went home and changed my practice by changing my approach to patients. I changed everything, it was a breath of fresh air and I started to really have a good time at work. I sold one office and that allowed me to better focus, working with patients one-on-one. Soon after that, the Tympanette CIC and the Hearing Ambassador program was just kicking off, and it was a very exciting time in the industry. And actually thats when Bill and I met and that was probably about 1990 or so.
Beck: And wasnt it about that time that Bill came up with the video-otoscope?
Austin: Yes, well, I think that was about 1992, and that was a collaboration of Starkey and Jed-Med, working from their laryngoscope model, and it was that same year that I started working for Starkey too.
Beck: Yes, I remember when you started. In fact, I bought a video-otoscope from Starkey in the early 1990s. As soon as I saw it and used it, I really needed to have it! I recall video-otoscopes were controversial, hard to imagine now, but they were!
Austin: Yes, there was resistance to the video-otoscope from some of the professionals. Some people thought it sounded crazy, but it made a tremendous difference while taking deep impressions for the Tympanette and other CICs, and it was, and is, important for some patients to see their eardrums, or to see that wax was or was not blocking their ear canal, and of course it really makes cleaning ears easier!
Beck: Tani, thanks. I guess we could chat about history for hours, but Id better switch gears to the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Austin: No problem at all.
Beck: I guess the Starkey Hearing Foundation really got going when you guys brought Hear Now into the group?
Austin: Well, we had the Foundation before that, but once we acquired Hear Now, Hear Now became the domestic division for the Foundation, serving people in need within the USA. However, the actual starting date for the Foundation was 1983. The Starkey Fund preceded it by about ten years and had the same mission, so this good work has been going on for more than thirty years!
Beck: My understanding is that virtually anyone in the USA can go into any professional office, and if they need hearing aids, but cannot afford them, the Starkey Hearing Foundation will provide them?
Austin: Yes, thats true. We work with the professionals and the individuals across the USA, and actually Hear Now is cranking out hearing aids all day long, targeted for people in need within the USA. In fact, Hear Now gives away just as many hearing aids across the USA as the entire Foundation gives away throughout the world.
Beck: And roughly, that means you guys give away some ten thousand hearing aids annually in the USA, and another ten thousand across the world?
Austin: Yes, it varies annually, but those numbers are good estimates.
Beck: That is amazing! You should be very proud of that Tani. The quantity of people you provide hearing to is absolutely amazing. And I think its important to note that the Foundation is primarily funded through Starkey, the hearing aid manufacturer. Financial support also comes in through the annual Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala, and I guess some private monies too?
Austin: Yes, thats correct. In 2003, the Gala event brought in some 1.6 million dollars, and in 2004, the Gala featured Elton John, and we raised some 2.8 million dollars. But the need is always greater than we can meet, and were always honored to work with new funding sources.
Beck: Tani, how many missions does the Foundation provide annually, and how many do you and Bill actually attend each year?
Austin: The Foundation usually supports about a hundred missions annually, and we will personally attend missions in 14 cities, in 8 different countries this year. Each mission takes a week or more, so its a significant time commitment, and we try to focus our attention on those with the greatest need.
Beck: I know you recently attended the mission to South Africa, can you tell me about that?
Austin: Sure. That was such a long flight! We saw over a thousand children and we were gone for about two weeks. That was a situation where we were working with about 200 to 225 children each day, and the needs were overwhelming, but it was a great trip, and I am very glad we went. We also just recently completed a mission in Anaheim, California and we fit about 75 kids there, so that was very fulfilling too. That was a little bit of an odd situation, because many of the children had hearing aids that their schools provided, but the kids had to leave the hearing aids at school, and so we gave them their own units they could wear all day long, at school and at home too.
Beck: What can you tell me about the quality of the hearing aids you gave the children?
Austin: Bill gives them all digital hearing aids, and many of them have custom made digital hearing aids. Bill believes we need to give them the best technology possible, and we need to meet the needs of the child, giving them something they can wear, and something theyre willing to wear. Thats what we do in the USA. In third world countries, we often give analog units because those might be easier for the local repair shops and dispensers to follow-up on, so it is a little bit driven by the local resources too.
Beck: Tani, please explain the logistics to mehow can you take care of that many people?
Austin: Well, the missions are generally accomplished in two trips. The first group goes out to screen and test people and get earmold impressions. A while later, the second group goes out to deliver the hearing aids, which are usually BTEs with custom fit earmolds. Of course, the recipients also need after-care. The local dispensers or audiologists, and sometimes even the government agencies or local civic groups, will see the kids for follow-up, cleaning, battery issues and other post-fitting follow-up issues. We usually have local medical support, so if the screening team believes a referral is in order, they take care of that.
Beck: What happens if you get out to the site, and the earmold or the hearing aid needs a major adjustment, shell, matrix or whatever?
Austin: Great question. The missions generally travel with complete labs to handle virtually any and all needs that arise. The missions are well equipped and can handle last minute changes and adjustments.
Beck: For professionals and people who need, but cannot afford hearing aids, how do they get patched-in with the Starkey Hearing Foundation?
Austin: The Foundation has its own toll free number, and thats the place to start. The number is 1-800-769-2799.
Beck: Tani, I want to thank you for the work you do, for making the resources of Starkey available to people in need, and thanks so much for your time today. Its a pleasure to speak with you, your enthusiasm is contagious!
Austin: Thank you too Doug. Its a joy to do the work we do, were fortunate to be able to do it, and we appreciate the opportunity to work with you, Healthy Hearing, and Audiology Online too.
For more information on the Starkey Hearing Foundation, visit www.sotheworldmayhear.org.