It's been a busy year for Anna Gilmore Hall, RN, MS, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). She was named to the position in May—succeeding Brenda Battat, who retired—and officially assumed the role in July.
Prior to joining HLAA, Ms. Gilmore Hall was executive director of Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit focused on environmental solutions for the healthcare sector. She brings to her new job 20 years of experience in the management of nonprofit organizations, helping them to grow and reach their goals.
As the Hearing Loss Association of America celebrated its 34th anniversary, Ms. Gilmore Hall spoke with The Hearing Journal about her ideas for the organization's future, including initiatives centered on the workplace and on veterans; her personal connection to hearing loss; and what has surprised her most about her new position.
How did you first hear about the executive director position with the Hearing Loss Association of America? What interested you most about it?
Anna Gilmore Hall: When they were recruiting for the position, I was approached by a headhunter and immediately fell in love with the organization and its mission. This was primarily because I grew up in a household where my dad had a hearing loss, and, while I don't have a hearing loss today, my sister does.
Helping people who are dealing with a hearing loss and helping their families is something that I am certainly interested in. I want to take my years of experience in helping organizations increase their growth and bring that to HLAA to benefit the people and families going through what I once did.
What did you know about HLAA before you took the job? How did you envision contributing to the origination?
When I first became aware of HLAA, I spoke with people who told me about how it either saved their life or gave them back their life. That's the kind of organization that I want to participate in. That's what gets me excited every morning when it's time to come to work.
While there are 48 million people in this country who have a hearing loss, not enough people know about HLAA. I really want to help change the way the world thinks about hearing loss and change the way people with hearing loss think about themselves. We've been doing that for 34 years, but I think we're at a tipping point where we can actually build momentum for the work that we're doing around hearing loss.
What had been your previous experience in hearing healthcare?
As a nurse, I spent some time in the field years ago, but, honestly, I haven't done any clinical work for a long time.
I think I come to HLAA with two unique qualifications for this job. One is growing up in a situation with a dad who had a hearing loss. The second is understanding that hearing loss is a public health issue but also knowing what we can do to galvanize people in the healthcare industry around it.
I know how we develop the marketing and resources so that we can get the word out that people who have a hearing loss can live successfully with it and that we have the tools to provide support to their family members as well.
How did your prior work managing nonprofit organizations prepare you for your current role?
Well, I think that being the executive director of Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm gave me a unique opportunity to bring those skills and experiences to HLAA.
When I started working with these two organizations, we were initially fighting to get the mercury out of healthcare. We were successful at a time when a lot of other things were taking the attention of healthcare. We taught people that they were involved in a practice that needed to change and developed a message that people wanted to hear because it was in their best interest from a business standpoint.
Since you've assumed the position of HLAA executive director, what have been some of your accomplishments?
I've spent a lot of time listening to people, which was one of the things that I told the Board that I was going to do in my first 100 days. I've been traveling to get the word out, meeting people, listening to what the issues are, and then coming back with some suggestions for moving forward.
I've started to do a membership survey to find out what HLAA is doing for our members—what are our strengths, what are our weakness, and what are the opportunities for improvement in terms of programs and services.
I'm also working on figuring out how to reach people who are under 65 and haven't heard of HLAA.
What are your priorities moving forward?
We're going to be doing a lot of work around the workplace. We know that baby boomers are currently aging into hearing loss and really need to get additional tools and resources from HLAA.
We've developed a strategic initiative around hearing loss, not only for the individual who has the hearing loss, but to provide additional support and resources to employers.
We also want to reach out to veterans because we know that that's a huge need right now; we'd like to get a strategic partner around that initiative.
And thirdly, how can we help parents of children who have a hearing loss? How can we provide more tools and resources for them?
What are the biggest challenges of addressing hearing loss in the general public?
Unfortunately, many people think that hearing loss only affects older folks, but we know that 65 percent of the people who have hearing loss are under age 65.
We have to make people understand that hearing shouldn't be discounted or taken for granted. We know that it takes the average individual seven years from the time he starts to realize he has a hearing loss to the time he does something about it because he's worried about wearing a hearing aid or being seen as old. Frankly, it can't wait.
There's growing evidence and research linking hearing loss to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. We have to help people understand that with taking care of their hearing, it's possible that we can help mitigate some of the symptoms and some of the challenges that people with dementia have.
How has your perception of hearing healthcare been changed by your role as executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America?
It has changed in that I didn't realize how people were so against getting hearing aids or addressing their hearing loss. That whole denial of it was a surprise, and I think that it has been a challenge.
The inability to get insurance coverage in a real substantial way was also a bit of a surprise.
Finally, we need to do more primary prevention. As a nurse, it's kind of surprising that we don't do a better job in our annual health screenings to really look for the signs of hearing loss. Many times it isn't picked up unless people come and explicitly talk to their healthcare provider about it. That has to change, and I'm going to work hard to make sure that it does.
PODCAST INTERVIEW EXTRA WITH HLAA'S ANNA GILMORE HALL
Only in the April iPad issue, listen in as Anna Gilmore Hall shares a story from her first few months as executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) that drove home for her the power of hearing assistive technology to change relationships—in this case, helping a mother build a stronger connection to her daughter and her grandchildren.
“It reinforced for me how educating and supporting people with hearing loss, and giving them information about assistive technology, can help them live successfully, and this mother now can have a different kind of relationship with her own daughter and her grandchildren,” Ms. Gilmore Hall says in the podcast.
“I was blown away by that conversation because I hadn't thought about it in those kinds of terms.”
Turn the page for the print Q & A with Ms. Gilmore Hall.
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