A Trip to Capitol Hill with the Student Academy of Audiology
The excitement was in the air as graduate students of the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) Board of Directors (BOD) made their way to the train station bound for Capitol Hill in Washington, DC this July. The trip was made July 7, 2017, a crucial time in health-care legislation and economic reform. The students came with a mixture of experience ranging from years of educating our members of Congress to their first experience on the Hill. Joshua Huppert, immediate past president of SAA and someone with years of advocacy experience shared his thoughts:
“We are all voices for the profession of audiology and the future of the profession is dependent upon the actions we take now to educate and inform others. In my opinion, this all starts with professional advocacy. Discussing aspects of legislation pertaining to audiology with our national congress people not only helps to raise awareness about our profession, our scope of practice, and the ways in which our services can positively impact patient quality of life, but it also helps us to ensure the services we render will continue to be available to those who have, are currently, or will eventually benefit from those services moving forward. This trip to Capitol Hill has moved and inspired me for the last three years and it never ceases to amaze me how willing and ready the congress people are to listen attentively to your concerns and contributions as constituents of their districts. Believe me, your voice matters, so use it.”
Advocacy is crucial for our profession moving forward, and the audiology graduate students of SAA along with their Academy mentors and advisors made their voices known and educated our legislative body on crucial audiology policy.
The SAA BOD is comprised of audiology graduate students from across the country. This mixture of students from diverse backgrounds gave a unique opportunity to reach a range of congressional offices from different states, including some of that were not otherwise contacted or visited from the audiology community as frequently. This is crucial for the advancement of policies that support audiology future goals, patient safety and educating more of our elected officials on the importance of audiology and why our patients matter. A total of 11 visits were made that spanned from coast to coast. SAA BOD members met with Representative Norma Torres (D-CA-35), Representative Ralph Abraham (R-LA-5), Representative Billy Long (R-MO-7), and Representatives from Connecticut, Delaware, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois. The SAA BOD was prepared for each Hill visit by Adam Finkel, the Academy’s associate director of government relations.
During the Hill meetings, the SAA BOD specifically discussed two major pieces of legislation. The first was H.R. 1539, the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (EHDI). This bill calls for the reauthorization of the EHDI programs over the next five years and makes many improvements to the previous EHDI legislation. These improvements consist of expanding EHDI programs to include young children, clarifying the roles of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Overall improving access to follow-up intervention that is crucial when hearing loss is identified when following the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (JCIH) 1-3-6 goals. Each meeting consisted of conversations tied to personal experiences and examples from clinical work that was impacted by the EHDI program. Other focuses were on the details of this bill, specifically related to reauthorization rates and allocation of funds. Students expressed the powerful truth that EHDI is a government program that works. I currently am a pediatric audiology extern, and I see the effects EHDI has on the patients I see every day. It was important to me that we all relay the care, time, and social responsibility we all share in caring for our children and EHDI does just that. Upon meeting with Representative Mark Pocan’s (D-WI-2) office, it was clear that our voice as future and current professionals in audiology matters. Our representation is looking for us to be the experts in what we do and to share with them the real stories and experiences that make a difference.
The second piece of legislation that was of focus was the Access to Frontline Health Care Act of 2017 (H.R. 2042). This bill addresses the significant loan debts that professional students acquire and the disparity of professionals located in areas with shortages of health practitioners. Not only does this bill address the disproportion between the amounts of loans an audiology graduate student acquires versus the salary but it also addresses the important role audiology plays in health care. SAA BOD member Riley DeBacker said, “As this was my second time on the Hill, it was great to see some familiar faces and build on old rapport to encourage my representative to represent me and my profession in national legislation. I’m particularly excited about the Access to Frontline Care Act and the potential it offers to expand services. Right now, audiology and so many other health services are centered in urban areas and mostly inaccessible to many members of the community, particularly here in Ohio. As such, when I came back from the visit to the Hill, I started telling my friends and classmates about H.R. 2042 and encouraging them to contact their representatives about it so that we can see some progress with the bill!”
One voice can be missed, but many voices will be heard. It is important to speak for the profession about which we are so passionate and to express our goals for our audiology future. Advocacy is one crucial way that audiology can be heard, seen, and grow. The SAA BOD’s trip to Capitol Hill left excitement still in the air for advocacy, policy, and education. Our voice matters and our patients matter. If one more person knows what an audiologist is and does and why that is important then the trip was a success.
Thank you to our American Academy of Audiology advisors and mentors and the Academy’s government relations team for supporting us on this life-changing journey.
Hanna Sawher is an SAA BOD Member and Public Outreach Committee Chair 2017-2018, 4th year AuD extern at Children’s Hospital of WI