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October 28, 2002

Hearing-aid shop in Chelmsford closes abruptly, leaving clients 'out of luck'

From: Lowell Sun, MA
Oct. 28, 2002

Sun Staff

CHELMSFORD A local hearing-aid company has abruptly closed up its North Road shop, leaving at least 40 customers in the lurch

Sometime over the last week, Affordable Hearing Technology Inc. unexpectedly shut down offices in Chelmsford and Lexington. The closures came as state regulators were on the brink of denying owner Debora Arnett's application for an audiologist's license and as the attorney general's office investigated 20 consumer complaints.

"The place is closed up as tight as a drum, and here I am, out of luck," said Aubrey Stewart, a Lowell resident who paid $2,700 for two hearing aids two years ago and was looking to repair one aid that was still under warranty. "Because she's gone, I'm going to have to buy another hearing aid."

Attempts to reach Arnett, who used to live on Wellman Avenue in Chelmsford, were unsuccessful, as she has an unpublished phone number and left no forwarding information.

While Arnett was not a licensed audiologist, one of her employees apparently was, allowing her to stay in business. Arnett had been trying to obtain a license for the last two years, but had been put off by the Division of Professional Licensure for undisclosed reasons.

In order to obtain a license, a person must pass a written exam and background check, and serve a one-year apprenticeship.

"It's not something you just walk in off the street and get," said Jim Rogers, owner of Rogers Hearing Solutions in Tewksbury. "The bottom line is, my concern is that somebody like that scares people away from doing something about their hearing. A lot of these people are panicked."

Rogers, who has been in business for 29 years, took out advertisements in The Sun last week offering to reprogram hearing aids for Affordable Hearing customers at no charge, and refit them for a small charge. Twenty people have already contacted him.

Separately, Attorney General Thomas Reilly has sent Arnett a letter "notifying (Affordable Hearing) they intend to sue, unless the matter can be resolved successfully," said James Anliot, general counsel for the state Board of Registration for Hearing Instrument Specialists.

Sara Nathan, a spokeswoman for Reilly, noted that 20 consumers have filed complaints against the company over the last three years. Because the investigation is ongoing, Anliot and Nathan refused to comment on specific allegations Arnett faces.

Even local police are investigating.

"We've gotten several reports from residents in town who have purchased hearing aids, or sent them out to be repaired, yet upon not hearing from the company, have discovered they've gone out of business," Chelmsford Police Lt. Jim Murphy said. "I'm afraid that as time goes on, we'll get more reports, unfortunately."

The business, which billed itself as "your last stop toward better hearing," was able to operate because one certified audiologist had a license in hand, in compliance with state legislation passed two years ago. Under that law, anyone who fits or sells hearing aids needs to have a license.

Having a pending application, however, shows an intent to be licensed, Anliot said.

All Affordable Hearing customers who have problems with their hearing aids should contact the licensing board at (617) 727-6529.

Frank Tutalo's e-mail address is .

© 2002 Lowell Sun