UCSF Launches Center to Screen Newborn Hearing

July 19, 2000
News Office: Janet Basu (415) 502-6397

UCSF Medical Center is one of three Newborn Hearing Coordinating Centers designated as part of a new statewide program. These coordinating centers, officially launched on July 24, will certify and monitor local hospitals to screen the hearing of newborns and to make sure newborns identified with possible hearing loss receive follow-up care.

"For a baby born with a significant hearing loss, the first few months of life are crucial to the ability to learn to use language," said Toni Iten Will, an audiologist at UCSF Medical Center and director of the UCSF-based Hearing Coordination Center for the Bay Area/Coastal Region.

The goal of the new state program is to ensure that care is provided to every baby with a hearing loss by six months of age. Will said, "Research shows that babies who are identified early and receive interventions by six months of age, such as family support and education, hearing aids, visual and auditory stimulation and manual signs for words, are more likely to develop normal language and communication skills. Those whose hearing loss is not detected until age two or later struggle against a big disadvantage that continues when the child enters school."

California's Newborn Hearing Screening Program, mandated by a 1998 state law, will certify more than 200 hospitals to offer screening to all children born in their maternity units by December 2002. Trained staff will perform a painless, non-invasive test, often conducted while the baby sleeps, to detect possible hearing loss.

At UCSF Medical Center, its Children's Health Services is one of the nation's leading pediatric care centers, and a leader in research and care for children and adults with hearing loss. Research at UCSF contributed to the technology used for non-invasive hearing screening.

The audiology program at UCSF, directed by Robert Sweetow, has long been a leader in providing comprehensive services to hearing-impaired children and their parents. The program is particularly known for its research into advanced hearing aid technology.

In fact, basic research in hearing loss at UCSF led to the development of the cochlear implant for severely deaf children and adults, and the identification of genes associated with hereditary hearing impairment. Dr. Anil Lalwani is director of pediatric otology and neurotology and of the pediatric program at the Douglas Grant Cochlear Implant Center at UCSF Medical Center.

The Hearing Coordination Center for the Bay Area/Coastal Region based at UCSF will serve 16 Bay Area and Northern California coastal counties. The other centers are the Northeastern and Central California HCC at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento and the Southern California HCC at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.

The centers will first certify newborn hearing screening programs at hospitals statewide. California Children's Services-approved hospitals have until December 2002 to achieve certification and implement their programs.

Permanent significant hearing loss occurs in two to four infants per 1,000 in the United States. One of every 1,000 babies is profoundly deaf.

California' s screening program is expected to identify 1,200 babies who need hearing intervention each year. Infants identified with significant hearing loss will be referred for medical evaluation and treatment, educational and support services in cooperation with community agencies that offer early intervention.

As many as 25,000 infants a year are expected to require follow-up screening, and some 4,000 of those will be followed with additional diagnostic audiologist testing.

California's new program provides reimbursement for all Medi-Cal eligible and uninsured newborns tested in any hospital that has been state certified to perform newborn hearing screening.

Using a statewide data system provided by the Department of Health Services, the Hearing Coordination Centers will track each child born in the participating hospitals to make sure that newborns are offered hearing screening and those who do not pass are followed up with re-screening and diagnostic evaluations, as needed, by the age of three months. The Centers also will provide information to families and their health providers so they can advocate with commercial health plans for appropriate treatment.

The toll-free information number for the statewide California Newborn Hearing Screening program is (877) 388-5301.