When the Meyfohrt and Burrous families celebrate the first Hearing Aid Awareness Day on Sunday, May 29, it will be at Floral Park’s Centennial Gardens. The 11 a.m. ceremony is being held in recognition of a state resolution establishing May 29 as Hearing Aid Awareness Day, and it will also be in memory of Andrew Burrous, a hearing impaired child who was hit by a car five years ago and is getting part of the garden dedicated to him. All of this activism on behalf of hearing impaired children started when Debbie Meyfohrt needed to purchase hearing aids for her son Kyle a couple of years ago. She was shocked to learn that insurance companies in New York state and around the country do not cover the cost.
“Your average set of hearing aids cost between $8,000 to $10,000 for a pair,” she said. “[Insurance companies] classify hearing aids as appliances. For the quality of life for someone who can’t hear, they are more than just an appliance. They are a need.”
When Meyfohrt started researching organizations around the country that might be able to help out with the cost of hearing aids, she came across the Olive Osmond Hearing Fund (OOHF). Founded by Justin Osmond, the hearing-impaired grandson of the Osmond matriarch who he named the organization after, the OOHF helped Meyfohrt out and gave her son a pair of brand-new, top-of-the-line hearing aids at no cost. After accepting an invitation to a 2014 New Jersey fundraiser where the Meyfohrts got to meet Justin Osmond and his wife Kristi, Kyle decided to raise money to donate to the OOHF. While his goal was $250, we wound up raising $1,015 and presenting the check to the Osmonds.
It was from here that the Kylefohrts became activists for hearing impaired children. Last year, the family spearheaded an event called Night of Musical Talent, which raised $11,175. While Debbie Meyfohrt intended to be able to afford to give a pair of hearing aids to one child, a fortuitous meeting with the vice president of the Northwell Health (formerly LIJ) Speech and Hearing Center was extremely helpful. Not only did he donate hearing aids, but he enabled Meyfohrt to purchase them at their cost. And while she was able to raise enough money to get six children on Long Island hearing aids along with 20 more in Mexico, her work with LIJ was an eye-opening experience.
“LIJ got me hearing aids at their cost, which blew me away—I was going to be charged $8,000 and they were only going to pay about $1,000. The markup is unbelievable because they know they can do it, because there are no mandates on insurance companies or on hearing aids,” she said. “That whole thing got me started thinking that there had to be some kind of regulation on this because it’s not fair, especially to children.”
Meyfohrt started reaching out to local politicians to find out about what could be done about getting insurance companies in New York State to start covering the cost of hearing aids.
A meeting at Senator Kemp Hannon’s office really got the ball rolling when one of his legislative assistants started giving Meyfohrt tips about where she should go and what she should do. In the meantime, Hannon started writing a bill and in the process, asked the Floral Park mom for her input. And while her wish-list for what should be in this bill was forwarded to Hannon’s Albany office, Meyfohrt was advised that she should also write a resolution that would help bring awareness, recognition and support for this proposed bill.
“I started calling senators and people in the assembly, and I was able to get Assemblyman Ra and Assemblywoman Solages to co-sponsor the Hearing Aid Day of Awareness resolution. I also contacted Mayor Tweedy here in Floral Park, because I needed a resolution on the local level first,” Meyfohrt explained. “The Village of Floral Park adopted my resolution on April 19 and then Assemblyman Ra and Assemblywoman Solages submitted it to the state assembly afterwards, and it was passed and adopted to recognize May 29 as a Hearing Aid Day of Awareness throughout New York State.”
While the date was picked to represent the same date in 1855 when the first hearing aid, called the Earscoop, was patented in the United States by New Jersey’s Edward G. Hyde, the day’s events will also be honoring Andrew Burrous. Burrous’s name is also attached to the proposed bill, which is being called “Andrew’s Gift.” A close friend of Meyfohrt’s youngest son Kory, Burrous’ loss still resonates five years later.
“He was riding his bike on the sidewalk with his mother next to him, and this brand-new driver who just got her learner’s permit jumped the curb and hit them both,” Meyfohrt recalled. “Andrew died at the scene. His mother is doing this whole thing with me. Her, Andrew and Andrew’s brother are hearing impaired, so we’ve been doing this all in memory of Andrew.”
Hearing Aid Awareness Day is about bringing awareness to those that are hearing impaired. Northwell Health will have their medical van and audiologists on site to provide free hearing screenings to those interested. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.