The Georgia Academy of Audiology is a professional organization of audiologists and friends of the audiology community that promotes quality hearing and balance care by advancing the profession of audiology through leadership, advocacy, education, public awareness, and support of research.*

 

 

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President's Message

Alice Cellino, Au.D., 2016-17 GAA President

Although many of you are aware, I am pleased to tell you that we were successful in our effort to stop SB 153, which would have deregulated hearing aid dispensers and created a class of unregulated OTC hearing aids in Georgia. It would take me pages to give you all the details about this adventure in politics, electroacoustic engineering, and audiology. And even if you wanted to know the nitty-gritty, our lobbyists Stan Jones and Helen Sloat would come after me for putting into print the secrets which enabled us to win this battle. I’ll settle for bulleted highlights of the things which stand out to me as important for you to know, but I’m always happy to talk with anyone who wants to chat. Readers be warned: this is typed just how it came to my mind, which means it rambles and has strange examples.

This battle to change and stop SB 153 began on February 10th and did not end until midnight on March 30th. We battled from the First Day to the Last Day, and it took every minute in between to understand the issues, develop attack plans, and educate both sympathetic and unsympathetic lawmakers about our concerns. Your GAA lobbyists never took a break from this bill. Kate Marr and I were at the Capitol at least once a week (if not 2-3 times a week), fighting this bill, but Stan and Helen were there 12 hours a day, every day of session. They were the ones having impromptu conversations on our behalf, in the hallways, as need arose, and those efforts were the backbone of our success. I spent many hours watching other lobbyists this session; I am certain that no one is as fortunate as we are. And as a serious bonus, Stan and Helen are as nice to work with as they are effective. Working with them is half the reward of being GAA President. When you support GAA, whether it’s through membership or PAC contributions or attending CEU events, you support Helen and Stan, who are our front line of defense as a profession.

We won this battle because we identified the both the legal and practical reasons why SB 153 was bad for the Georgia hearing impaired citizen. Although our concern about the diminished quality of professional hearing healthcare associated with the OTC model is quite valid, that point couldn’t stand alone because of the Federal push for OTC hearing aids. OTC hearing aids are ‘a coming. The fight for SB 153 required us to research both federal and state laws, and succinctly craft letters about the ways SB 153 violated both of them.

Helen and Stan (Stan is also our lawyer) are encyclopedias of information about healthcare laws, and they were with Kate and I every time we had to debate the points of our opposition against other lawyers or lawmakers. I was also quite fortunate that my father is a lawyer and 3 of my close friends are lawyers, and they all generously gave their time and attention. Knowing the law gave us the power to win.

 This fight took all of the friend resources we had, and we have the best friends we could hope for. This friend list includes advisors from the Secretary of State’s office, who graciously explained licensing laws to me. New friends we met at the Capitol through Helen and Stan, who adopted Kate and I, fed us, and gave us advice and let us practice debating them as they played Devil’s Advocate. Legislators who were friendly and willing to be nice to the new kids who looked lost and nervous (particularly Sen. Nan Orrock, Sen. Lester Jackson, Chairman Howard Maxwell and Rep Richard Smith). Thanks is due to Senator Matt Brass and his team; although he was the sponsor of a bill that we opposed, he was always willing to talk, whether in person or through phone/text, and he listened to our concerns and tried to find common ground. He also let me sit on his office couch for two days as we weeded through our differences regarding this bill. I hope we get to work on the same side of legislation with him, one day. The whole lawyering world of Columbus, from my Dad’s law firm to Synovus’s legal team to my lawyer girlfriends and their lawyer husbands, who I’d text at night with random questions and thoughts. The entire GAA Board and other audiology guests, who were present in spirit (and email) from first day to last, and who called our legislators, called their friends, and even mobilized other professional groups, such as the Medical Association of Georgia, AAA, and ADA. Our friends Drew Dundas, Kyle Acker and Kim Cavitt, who are treasures of information about the OTC/PSAP world and who helped me find gaping problems with SB 153 that we used to our advantage. Drew, in particular, let me text him blurry pictures of bill drafts in the pre-dawn hours, which he would read and fire shots at like a sniper. The personal support needed to fight this bill and be a full time working mother was crucial. My husband, sons, and parents picked up all the slack in my absence at home. So did Kate’s family. My office (particularly Andrea Webster and her audiology team) picked up the slack with my patients and work commitments. Starkey did the same for Kate. I cringe because I don’t want this to sound like a corny, grandiose, Oscar acceptance speech, but to every single person who supported us/GAA in this effort, from the caretakers of the three year olds to the guys who explained the electroacoustic requirements of FDA approved Class 1 Medical Devices, THANK YOU. It took an entire army of people to win this battle, and all of the people mentioned above (and many more) are our true friends. We owe them our attention and help, should the roles ever be reversed.

 Starkey gets a bullet point of their very own. When SB 153 passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority, things looked grim. Although I had supportive calls from both manufacturers and executives across the industry, Starkey jumped to action on our behalf. They hired a lawyer/lobbyist (Edward Lindsey) who was very well connected through his own political career, and together they fought alongside us to change the course of this bill. Have you ever tried to put something really heavy up on a high shelf, and you get stuck in

the position where you can’t lift it further and you realize you may drop this thing on your head? That’s what Starkey did; they ran in and helped us lift that box. I loved watching them look after both Kate Marr (GAA President Elect and Starkey employee) and all Georgia hearing professionals and audiologists. Bravo and thank you, Starkey. That will not be forgotten.

 I hate to be the pessimist, but this was a 7 on a 10 scale fight. I think our biggest fight is yet to come, and that is when our scope of practice is challenged by other professions who believe, “hey, I can test hearing, how hard can it be?” Or by those who believe that because they are allowed to use an audiometer, they should be able to interpret the results and charge for their services. So, if you practice audiology, please support the efforts of GAA. None of this would be possible without your voluntary GAA Board and your financial contributions. Please, please, please, donate to the GA-AUD PAC and get involved with GAA. You don’t have to be President. Just keep your GAA membership current and push your audiology friends to be members. Support our CEU events and fundraising events, like the GAA Annual Convention and our upcoming Summer Event, on July 7, 2017, which will be a coordinated event with researchers from Georgia Tech who are studying hearing loss and language deprivation. 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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