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April 4, 2000
A hearing test is urged for every newborn

By Anita Manning, USA TODAY

National Campaign for Hearing Health

At least half of newborns in 24 states have their hearing tested before they leave the hospital. But despite efforts to institute universal screening, only 35% of infants are tested in American hospitals, and 33 infants a day go home with undiagnosed hearing loss, says the National Campaign for Hearing Health.

The campaign, a project of the Deafness Research Council, will release a national report card Wednesday at the launch of an initiative to boost the number of babies tested for hearing loss. Called May Babies, in conjunction with Better Speech and Hearing Month, the project urges parents to make sure their newborns are tested, starting with babies born next month .

The report card grades the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The marks range from "unsatisfactory" (Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska and five others) to "excellent" (Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii and six others), based on whether there is a statewide screening program, the quality of such programs and the percentage of newborns whose hearing is tested.

So far, 24 states have passed legislation requiring newborn hearing screening, and 13 others have such legislation in the works.

"There clearly is momentum building for doing screening, but there's still a long way to go," says Karl White of Utah State University, who analyzed data for the report card.

Having a state law on the books doesn't guarantee quality, White says.

"Sometimes that legislation gets passed, but states still haven't put a program in place," he says, and some states, notably Iowa, have been screening almost all new babies (97%) without a law requiring it.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $3 million in grants to 22 states to expand and develop hearing screening and intervention programs.

Peter C. van Dyck, director of maternal and child health with the Health Resources and Services Administration, which announced the HHS grants, says all states either have or are developing hearing screening programs for newborns. Many are just getting started.

"It's becoming universally accepted," he says, because "people are realizing how well babies do if they're diagnosed before 6 months" of age with a hearing loss.

And new screening tests cost only $15 to $40 each, compared with older tests that cost up to $600 per baby, White says.

Jack Wheeler, CEO of the Deafness Research Council, says statewide screening programs are important, but it's up to the parents to make sure a child is tested.

"We will never reach 100% (testing rate) in America unless it is parents themselves who say, 'I want my baby's hearing tested, and I won't take no for an answer,' " he says. His advice to new parents: "Don't leave the hospital without knowing if your baby can hear."

© 2000, USA Today


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