Bamboozled: Man claims office dragging its feet on new hearing aid

David Meltz has a beef with a state agency.

Meltz is both deaf and blind, and he receives state services from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and ??????????????????Visually Impaired (CBVI), which is part of the Department of Human Services.

In the past year, Meltz, 62, of Washington, said his already serious hearing loss worsened.

He has Usher Syndrome, which according to the National Institutes of Health is characterized by progressive hearing loss and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa. Meltz has lost about 70 percent of his hearing, but compared to others with the condition, he said he’s fortunate because he’s retained some vision and some hearing.

Doctors have told Meltz, who used to work as a school psychologist, that he’s not yet a candidate for cochlear implants. Better hearing aids would be his most realistic option, he said.

David Meltz, who is both legally blind and hearing impaired, is seen with his guide dog, "Hadar," at his home in Washington. Meltz says he qualifies for new hearing aids through the NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and he submitted the paperwork at the start of 2015, but he's still waiting to be approved. (Jerry McCrea/For NJ Advance Media)

David Meltz, who is both legally blind and hearing impaired, is seen with his guide dog, “Hadar,” at his home in Washington. Meltz says he qualifies for new hearing aids through the NJ Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and he submitted the paperwork at the start of 2015, but he’s still waiting to be approved. (Jerry McCrea/For NJ Advance Media)

“The problem I’m experiencing in plain terms isn’t one of needing a louder hearing aid. The volume isn’t the problem and hasn’t worsened in years. It’s intelligibility of speech,” Meltz said. “With the current hearing aids, voices sound a bit distorted and I often hear but don’t understand.”

For example, he said, with his current set of hearing aids, female voices often sound like Louis Armstrong.

But there’s a hearing aid with technology that cleans up those distorted sounds.

An audiogram, performed in January, confirmed the drop in his ability to hear. That made him a candidate for new hearing aids that would help with his specific kind of hearing problem.

“Under the terms of the services provided by the New Jersey CBVI, I qualify for that new set,” Meltz said. “Not a sexy sports car, but being able to engage in conversation is a significant plus for me.”

He said his audiologist sent the test results and a proposal for new hearing aids to CVBI on Feb. 5.

When Meltz didn’t receive a response, he emailed his case manager, records show, and the case manager replied that she hadn’t received the request.

So the audiologist resent the paperwork on March 3. The case manager said via email that she would process the request immediately.

But as time passed, Meltz didn’t receive any word.

So he contacted his case manager again.

“I have quite an extensive list of clients waiting for hearing aids at this current time,” the case manager said in an email dated April 24. “You are on the list, believe me. Along with requesting items for clients, there is a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork that comes along with it.”

More time passed, and nothing happened.

When Meltz first contacted Bamboozled in mid-May, he said the “procedural hoops have still not been hopped.”

“It was explained to me that I’m in a line with others in need who are also waiting and they’ll get to it when they can,” Meltz said. “The others on this list are no less in need than I am and no less qualified to receive them.”

Meltz said he knows there have been cutbacks throughout state government, but that doesn’t change his need or the stated mission of CBVI.

CBVI, which has a budget of more than $27 million, provides its mission statement on its web site.

“The mission of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired is to promote and provide services in the areas of education, employment, independence and eye health through informed choice and partnership with persons who are blind or visually impaired, their families and the community.”

It also says: “This agency works to provide and/or ensure access to services that will enable people who are blind or visually impaired to obtain their fullest measure of self-reliance and improved quality of life.”

Meltz says that’s an overstatement, and in his experience, service levels have plummeted since 2010.

He said he’s concerned not only about himself, but about others who may not be receiving services for which they qualify.

“I really don’t want to leap frog over others on the list simply because I’m making noise. They are in need as well, for some, likely more than me,” he said. “My objective is to spark awareness to address a systemic problem and if that’s addressed, mine will be addressed too.”

We wanted to know more about the agency, how it spends its money and how many New Jerseyans it’s tasked with helping.

And how many of those people are on waiting lists, like Meltz.
GETTING RESULTS

We reached out to CBVI on Meltz’s behalf, and in two business days he received an email from his case worker.

“Thank you for your patience. I understand you’ve been struggling,” the case worker wrote. “Your hearing aids will be approved today and I will be faxing them over to [the company] today.”

That was great news.

“I’m glad to be getting the new hearing aids but obviously, I leapfrogged over others in need,” Meltz said. “It’s not right.”

We reached out to CBVI to see if Meltz’s assumption was right. Was he moved ahead of others on the waiting list? How many people are on the list? How long does it usually take?

The answers seemed to conflict with what Meltz’s case manager said about having “quite an extensive list of clients waiting for hearing aids.”

“The request was in process but the purchase order was not issued until this week,” said spokeswoman Pam Ronan. “There is not a waiting list. Requests are processed in the order that they come in. There is no special treatment.”

Ronan said since the start of the state’s fiscal year, which began July 1, 2014, CVBI has helped 8,745 people, which includes consumers receiving services from all of its programs: Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Independent Living Services, and Eye-Health and Related Screenings.

In that same time period, she said, the state purchased 15 sets of hearing aids for consumers.

“There are four deaf-blind consumers whose hearing aids requests are in process – we believe that they should be received by mid-June,” she said.

She said once all the paperwork is completed, the wait can depend on the hearing aid type and manufacturer. It usually takes about two months, she said.

“CBVI staff manage the cases and respond to consumers’ needs as they are received, documented, reviewed and determined appropriate for action,” Ronan said. “Consumers’ needs and hearing aids vary in complexity and function. It is not ‘one size fits all’ so the purchase, whether through the state or an audiologist, will take time.”

She noted that CBVI didn’t receive Meltz’s paperwork until March — which is what Meltz said, though he reported the paperwork was sent the first time on Feb. 5.

She also said that Meltz has received other services, including a laptop and training to use adaptive software, new glasses and a previous set of hearing aids.

Meltz said he’s grateful for the services he’s received, but he disagrees with some of CVBI’s comments.

First, he reiterated that his case worker said in writing that she had “quite an extensive list of clients waiting for hearing aids.”

Next, Meltz said he understands that CBVI needs to review the request, assure the device meets standards and pricing.

“I’ve been through this process before, and it was quite literally a `couple’ of weeks to complete the review,” he said. “Directing this delay to the type and manufacturer is a red herring.”

He said in his experience, once ordered, most hearing aids are in the consumer’s ear within a week.

Meltz said he’s noticed a difference in service time in north Jersey compared to the help he received from the south Jersey offices.

“Essential services have been exceedingly slow and often require enormous patience and persistence. The current case has been the rule, not the exception,” he said. “Every procedure has become much, much, much longer to complete then in the past. There seems to me to be a systemic problem that needs to be addressed. I hope bringing attention to my case ignites a constructive pursuit.”

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.

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