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March 25, 2003

Hospital split dealt harsh blow to group helping hearing impaired

From: Leesburg Daily Commercial, FL - Mar 25, 2003

Daily Commercial Staff Writer


When Leesburg Regional Medical Center and Orlando Regional Healthcare announced plans to dissolve the Central Florida Health Development Foundation, it was a harsh blow to the Deaf and Hearing Services of Lake and Sumter Counties.

Funding from the foundation represented a quarter of the non-profit agency's budget, which is less than $200,000 annually.

“This organization is nonprofit. It started in 1990 in someone’s house,� said Ron Dahly, president and executive director of Deaf and Hearing Services of Lake and Sumter Counties.

The organization, which provides hearing aids, telephones, interpreters, baby monitors, and an array of other gadgets to the hearing impaired, opened its doors to the public Tuesday afternoon for an open house.

“We want people to know about our programs,� Dahly said. “But, the main purpose is to get more people involved and get more donors.�

He said the organization needs used, working hearing aids which can be re-cased and given to the hearing impaired free of charge.

The organization only has two staff members, but hopes to raise enough money to pay for a full-time interpreter.

If that becomes possible, Dahly said he’d like to see the organization set up a localized relay service much like Sprint has with it’s USA Video Relay Service. That program allows a hearing impaired person to log online and use sign language to convey a message via Web cam to a Sprint operator. Much like with the traditional TTY system, an operator then calls the message recipient.

“In the past, deaf people had to type and talk to the operator that way,� said Alisse Rasmussen, a board member. “This way, the person calling uses sign language.�

Another advantage, according to Rasmussen, is that the operator signs both questions and responses during the call, while there were lengthy delays previously while information was being conveyed with the TTY system.

“Our next step is to take this to the next level,� she said.

If the organization call hire a full-time interpreter, then doctor’s offices and hospitals across the two counties could install computers with high speed Internet and Web cams, allowing doctors to talk to patients without having to wait for an interpreter to arrive. The interpreter would have high speed Internet access and a Web cam, as well, enabling that person to communicate in real time without having to drive to a specific location.

“There are more than 400 people in Lake and Sumter Counties that are deaf, but can sign and more are coming over every day,� Rasmussen said. “Recently, a board member lost her husband. She was at a hospital in Orlando and it took four days for her to get an interpreter and she only got one then because her sister refused to write ‘You have to decide whether or not to pull the plug.’ This would be more manageable and less expensive for doctors.�

Aside from implementing the new Internet relay communication system, Deaf and Hearing Services of Lake and Sumter Counties would like to expand their services to help more people. Currently, they offer sign language classes, continuing education classes for hearing impaired and a variety of other services, including some free equipment for those who qualify..

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