Thanks to funding from the CHOP Cares EXCEL Grant program, the Healthy Hearing Community Education Program (HHCEP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) was able to screen nearly 200 children in Delaware County for hearing loss during the 2020-2021 school year, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. HHCEP, which was founded in 2014 to promote hearing health and wellness for children in the Philadelphia region, provides free preventive hearing screenings in order to detect childhood hearing loss early and reduce barriers to early intervention services.
After receiving the inaugural CHOP Cares EXCEL Grant in 2020, the team found themselves in the midst the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly began to plan for a very different 2020-2021 school year. Focusing their efforts on Delaware County Pre-K Counts students, who are 3-4 years old, the team worked diligently to coordinate hearing screenings for Pre-K Counts schools scheduled to have in-person classes.
Hearing screenings and other services are mandated by Pennsylvania law and HHCEP allows CHOP to provide these important services to schools in Delaware County for free, while also helping schools fulfill a requirement that could otherwise be a financial challenge.
"Hearing affects so many parts of a child's learning, speech and language, which is why early screening is crucial,” said Frank Wartinger, AuD, ABAC, clinical specialist and audiologist in the Department of Audiology and the Center for Childhood Communication at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. “Despite many obstacles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we persevered and were able to screen students and bring the clinic to them, providing a valuable service to the community.”
Over a two-month period, the HHCEP team was able to screen 180 children at nine Delaware County schools. The families of students who did not pass were notified, and the team recommended follow up with their primary care doctor. Since screenings took place during the pandemic, HHCEP team made safety the top priority, wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, thoroughly cleaning tables and screening equipment after each use, and following social distancing guidelines by screening only two students at a time.
In addition to the hearing screenings, the program incorporated a new educational component. The HHCEP team produced a 12-page activity booklet containing hearing health awareness lessons, games, and activities to help young students further understand the importance of hearing health and healthy listening habits. The team provided activity books for teachers to use as a fun in-class activity with their students.
“Our team is encouraged by the progress the EXCEL Grant allowed us to make, and the school administrators have repeatedly shared their appreciation for our team's efforts and perseverance this past year,” added Wartinger. “It was no small feat to adapt our program to the public health realities of 2020, and, in the end, we were proud of the results of those efforts. The support of the CHOP Cares EXCEL Grant helped set the program on a path towards success for years to come."
The HHCEP team plans to expand the program to additional schools in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
Contact: Joey McCool Ryan, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, (267) 258-6735 or firstname.lastname@example.org