Despite opening on the ill-starred date of September 11, the 2002 International Hearing Society's Annual Convention in Reno, NV, was a far happier event than last year's meeting. In 2001, the Golden Anniversary Convention had to be postponed because of the tragic events of the day preceding its scheduled start. And, when it did take place, in November, the shock and grief that all Americans were feeling cast a shadow over what would otherwise have been a festive celebration.
This year, although some members decided to stay home with their families rather than fly to Reno on 9/11, the turnout of about 600 dispensers was some 15% higher than in 2001, and total attendance was close to 1000.
At the general session, Robin Clowers, BC-HIS, executive director of IHS, thanked attendees “for leaving the safety of your homes to be here with us today.” Scott Austin, BC-HIS, the outgoing president, explained that when attempts to change the date of the 2002 meeting proved unsuccessful, “we decided to keep the date and keep it with pride.” Austin also announced that a commemorative medal issued by Congress was being presented to IHS member Nicholas Brandemarti, BC-HIS, whose son died at the World Trade Center.
SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE
On a much more upbeat note, the convention provided members with their first opportunity to celebrate together the decision of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last December to withdraw the proposed revision to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing aid regulations. Although the proposed changes were never made public, they posed at least the possibility of precluding hearing-impaired consumers from going directly to hearing aid specialists for hearing help and were vigorously opposed by IHS.
Timothy Watters, the attorney who has represented the society in Washington since 1974, told members, “After 10 years we can declare that the fat lady has sung!” He continued, “Is it a victory? Yes! It is a victory for the hearing-impaired,” since, he said, they will not be denied access to an important component of the hearing care community. Watters added that, in ending the nearly decade-long battle over the issue between audiologists and traditional dispensers, the HHS action also advanced the prospects of collaboration among the various hearing healthcare groups.
Following up on that thought, Karen Sealander, Watters's colleague at the firm of McDermott, Will, and Emery, said, “I look forward to building on this victory to shape a future in which an increasing number of the hearing-impaired get help.” That, she said, is the goal of the America's Hearing Healthcare Team Initiative, in which IHS and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) are partners.
Watters credited the grassroots campaign of IHS, which resulted in thousands of letters being sent to officials in Washington, for helping resolve the FDA issue favorably. He and Sealander then presented commemorative gifts—tombstone-style lucite blocks in which the announcements of FDA rulemaking and of its withdrawal were embedded—to key contributors to the victory.
In thanking Watters and Sealander, Scott Austin declared, “If our dynamic duo had been on the other side, we would have lost the right to practice our chosen profession.”
CHANGE AT THE TOP
During this year's convention, W.F.S. “Sam” Hopmeier, BC-HIS, began his 2-year term as president. Hopmeier, who holds an MBA from Harvard, took over his family's dispensing practice in St. Louis in 1966 and built it into a 7-office business, which he sold to Hear USA in 1999, but still runs. A 34-year member of IHS and a governor since 1993, he has chaired committees of the organization, been president of the Missouri Hearing Aid Society, served on two ANSI working groups, and is a director of the American Tinnitus Association.
In brief remarks after his formal installation at the convention's banquet on September 13, Hopmeier expressed his “eternal gratitude” to his parents for getting him started in the profession. He also fondly introduced Patricia, his wife of 41 years, and their son and daughter. He told members, “For the first time since 1993, IHS has the luxury not to have to worry about the FDA and the luxury to turn our attention to your needs.”
Earlier, during the general session, Hopmeier reported on a restructuring of IHS's committees. He described the new structure as “your team to get the job done.”
In a characteristically tearful farewell address on his final full day as president, Austin likened IHS to a ship. “The SS IHS,” he said, “entered unfriendly waters” in 1993 when FDA announced plans to revise the hearing aid regulations. But now, he continued, “I'm proud and lucky to say that it's all over. The FDA rulemaking is dead.” He praised the four presidents before him—Herb Gorlin, Alan Lowell, Jon Durkin, and Kathy Harvey—who led the organization through that critical period.
Austin continued, “I'm proud of what we've accomplished. I'm proud to have been your captain and to have represented you. It's been an honor.” He recalled that his mentor, the late Paul Willoughby, taught him early in his career, “You always have to put the patient first.” Similarly, he said, “That is my parting advice to you. Put the patient first. Take care of the hearing-impaired. You are good people, you do good work.”
Also during the general session, it was announced that Harlan Cato, BC-HIS, was the new president-elect and that John Letts, BC-HIS, had been elected secretary; Peter Meci, BC-HIS, treasurer; and Austin governor-at-large. Neil Waingrow, BC-HIS, was appointed to complete Cato's term as governor for the Southeast territory.
The membership approved a change in the bylaws that would exempt current members from being required to earn BC-HIS certification. The requirement, which had been passed a few years ago, was changed to apply only to people joining IHS in the future. Although two members spoke against the change, arguing that requiring all members to be board-certified was important in raising the educational standards of the profession, Austin said that the board did not want to lose any of the “long-time members who have stuck with us.” The decision, he said, reflected “respect for the history of this society.” The amendment was passed overwhelmingly.
During the meeting and throughout the convention, IHS paid homage to its “all-stars”—its veteran members. The more than 100 members marking 10, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40th, or 45th anniversaries of joining received awards.
Three awards were also presented for high accomplishment. Alan Lowell received the Joel S. Wernick Award presented by The Hearing Journal for excellence in dispenser education and certification. In several leadership positions with IHS, Lowell, to whom the late Joel Wernick was a mentor, has been a powerful proponent of board certification and of raising educational standards for hearing instrument specialists. Scott Austin received The Hearing Review's Professional Leadership Award, given in honor of his completion of his term as president. IHS gave its Chapter of the Year Award to the Pennsylvania Hearing Aid Alliance for its successful battle to amend legislation in that state to make hearing aid specialists eligible for reimbursement from Blue Cross.
Peter Mark, MD, vice-president for marketing at Oticon, Inc., was the featured speaker at the annual IHS Technology Luncheon. In his talk, entitled “Relationship Marketing: Savvy Strategies for a High-Tech World,” Mark said that the nature of marketing is undergoing dramatic changes. He advised dispensers to focus on marketing methods that result in establishing personal relationships with hearing-impaired consumers.
“People are longing for relationships,” Mark said, adding, “You can be an important relationship for people.” He continued, “Know your customer and their individual needs. You need to be able to cater to the individual.”