Thursday, March 10, 2016

Local audiologist establishes foundation for hospice patients

By Mary Wilson

Dr. Kelly Spiller is a busy mom of three girls (Rylee, Mackenzey and Peyton) and step-mom to a son (Maddox). On top of that, she and her husband recently took in two small foster children. With activities, parenting, running a business and seeing patients, Spiller surely doesn’t have much spare time.

However, in the little extra time she has, she was able to form a not-for-profit foundation. A 13-year veteran of audiology, Spiller started Professional Hearing Center in 2008, and opened a second location in Liberty in 2013. Most recently, Professional Hearing Center merged with ENT Associates of Greater Kansas City. Spiller instantly became president of Professional Hearing Center – A Division of ENT Associates of Greater Kansas City.

On February 10, 2016, Spiller incorporated Lend an Ear Foundation with board members Ron Booth and Pam Evans. Lend an Ear was established on the belief that all hearing-impaired individuals have the opportunity for communication success through provisions of quality hearing healthcare and devices regardless of income, ability to pay or health status.

“There isn’t anything like it, nobody has ever done this,” said Spiller. “My goal is to service any hospice patient with hearing trouble without having to incur huge costs.”

Among dying hospice patients, hearing problems are often overlooked, according to Spiller. This may be due in part because the hospice care model is built around patients who are rapidly declining, rather than the patients classified as the frail population: those with multiple chronic conditions and ambiguous prognoses.  Families and physicians frequently mistake hearing loss for dementia among the elderly and terminally ill, according to Barbara Weinstein, a professor of audiology at the City University of New York.

“I’m working with most of the major hearing aid manufacturers to refurbish old hearing devices,” said Spiller. “There will be a minimal charge to the patients, because I think there needs to be some buy-in or there’s no value to it.”

Through the foundation, Spiller will pay for the audiologist and the equipment to be used for the patients. The Institute of Medicine’s recent report, Dying in America, outlined core components of quality end-of-life care, many of which are tied to a patient’s ability to listen and communicate: patient counseling; distress management; attention to social, cultural and religious needs and assessment of physical and emotional well-being.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of Americans age 85 and older have hearing impairments. Unfortunately, Medicare and the Medicare Hospice Benefit do not cover hearing aids, which can cost between $1600 and $3500 each.

“For those that can’t afford it, we’ll figure that out,” added Spiller. “I can’t imagine turning anyone away. We want to help.”

Large medical bills, mortgages and other liabilities the estate will need to cover will likely take precedence over hearing aids at the point of hospice care. Qualified and licensed audiologists, through the foundation, will visit with each patient, evaluate hearing and offer appropriate treatment options.  Patients, families and caregivers will all be included in the treatment plan set forth.  If hearing aids or other assistive devices are needed, these will be fitted to the patient for a nominal charge and maintained by the audiologists and staff for as long as the patient needs them. When the patient is no longer in need of the devices, they will be returned to the Lend an Ear Foundation. 

“There was a need for this type of service and when I started looking into it and found out there was no recognizable organization tending to this need,” said Spiller. “I felt compelled to fill this void.  I am excited for this new journey and can't wait to see the transformation in the Hospice patients and their families during this very difficult life event.”

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