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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Published: Friday, 2/7/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Toledo hearing, speech center closes

Harsh weather was final straw to financially struggling agency

BY MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Hearing and Speech Center staff members test Toledo Public School students in 1938. The center has been a fixture in the community for nearly a century. Toledo Hearing and Speech Center staff members test Toledo Public School students in 1938. The center has been a fixture in the community for nearly a century.
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The extreme weather this winter has taken a toll on the nonprofit Toledo Hearing and Speech Center, and the agency — which has been struggling financially — announced it will shut its doors today.

It has been a fixture in the Toledo community for nearly 100 years and serves more than 700 children a year with hearing and speech disorder and autism services. But the center could not overcome the loss of nearly $100,000 because of weather-related cancellations, executive director Pamela Myers said.

“January was a really tough month for us due to weather. We have about 150 children that come in for therapy on any given week and there were a lot of cancellations. We also provide therapy to kids through the schools, and obviously the kids were off more than they went to school in January,” Ms. Myers said.

“I would say the school closings were the tipping point — 11 days did harm us a lot. It is difficult to keep a place open when we have to pay our fixed costs when we don’t have that revenue coming in,” said Matthew Detrick, president of the board of trustees.

The agency’s leaders said, however, that the financial problems did not begin last month. Several factors have led to a decline in the amount of money coming in to pay for the staff of 23 full and 12 part-time employees over the last several years.

One of the key factors in the decision was a 25 percent reduction in the amount of money the federal government reimburses for occupational therapy services through Medicaid, Ms. Myers said.

She also said that private insurance company reimbursements have gone down as well.

“I have been the director about 14 years. I’ve seen the need for services increase, but I have not seen the financial support for those services increase. For example, we are getting paid less than when I started from private-insurance plans. Most of our kids need more services than what their insurance will cover, and it’s an expense that many families can’t pay out of pocket,” she said.

Part of the center’s mission was to provide speech, audiology, and occupational therapy services to everyone regardless of their ability to pay, Mr. Detrick said. “We now have one less place that provides services for underprivileged families in the community.”

The board of trustees had two emergency meetings this week and made the decision Tuesday night to close, but a level three snow emergency on Wednesday, delayed the announcement until Thursday, Mr. Detrick said.

“We looked at every possible scenario such as merging with other centers or cutting other programs, but the dominoes had already started to topple, and any scenario we put together would have prolonged it but the result would have been the same,” he said.

An assistive listening device demonstration station at the Toledo Hearing and Speech Center. An assistive listening device demonstration station at the Toledo Hearing and Speech Center.
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The rising cost of providing health-care coverage for the staff and the increasing competition between nonprofits for scarce charitable dollars were also factors that led to the decision to close, Ms. Myers said.

“It was important to us that we didn’t run out of money, and people show up for work and the doors were locked. It feels quick, but it allows us the opportunity to pay our bills and make things right,”she said.

She said staff members spent the day Thursday calling the families that use the center to notify them of the closing.

Although the agency will cease operating at the end of today, Ms. Myers said she will still be available for a few weeks to help the families obtain medical records and find other service providers in the area.

The center moved to its current location, 4841 Monroe St., about a year ago from a larger space on Central Avenue in the Westgate area to save money on rent. That was just one of many location changes for the agency that began in October, 1919, in Toledo.

It began as the Toledo League of the Hard of Hearing. By 1920 the group of seven members, led by their president, Mrs. Rodney Dewey, incorporated and moved into a 13-room house at 2313 Ashland Avenue. At that time it was the fifth organization of its kind in the country.

“They started the agency to teach the deaf children to read,” Ms. Myers said, adding that in 1920 they became a Community Chest agency, which was the former name of the United Way.

Ms. Myers said the center operated for many years in the former United Way building downtown.

Over the years, the focus of the agency moved from just strictly providing services for the deaf.

Some veterans who returned after World War II had suffered hearing loss and traumatic brain injuries, and the need for speech therapy and assistance grew. The center grew too to accommodate those needs in the 1940s and ’50s, she said.

The 1960s was another era of growth for the center, when Medicaid and Medicare became available and opened up therapy to people of lesser means, Ms. Myers said.

The community is losing the place that houses the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, which began as a center for the deaf. “Isn’t that ironic,” Ms. Myers said.

Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor Marlene Harris-Taylor at: mtaylor@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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