CMU Audiology Professor Trains Midwives to do Hearing Screenings

CMU audiology professor trains midwives, grows rate of newborn hearing screenings nearly 50 percent

Michigan Midwives Project is first in state to provide equipment, training

Central Michigan University is the only audiology program in the state training midwives to do newborn hearing screenings, and the outcome shows promising results.

In just one year, CMU audiology professor Shannon Palmer and graduate students from The Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions have increased the rate of universal newborn hearing screenings for home-birthed babies in Michigan from 19 percent to 67 percent.

“Although universal newborn hearing screening programs have been implemented in all 50 states, one population that is routinely underserved is the home-birth population,” Palmer said. “In Michigan, about 1 percent of all babies are born at home. Many midwives don’t have the training required to perform a newborn hearing screening or the $15,000 necessary to purchase the screening equipment.”

Palmer’s research uncovered anecdotal evidence from parents and midwives that suggested barriers of home-birthed babies receiving a hearing screening were related to difficulty obtaining appointments, lack of a screening center close to home and parents’ resistance to bringing the baby to a medical facility.

According to Palmer, about 97 percent of babies born in a hospital in Michigan receive a hearing screening before going home.

Palmer, along with Nan Asher from the Michigan Department of Community Health and Wendy Switalski from Audiology Systems Inc., partnered with the Michigan Coalition for Deaf, Hard of Hearing and DeafBlind People and received a $200,000 grant from The Carls Foundation. They used the money to purchase 15 automated auditory brainstem response, or AABR, units that were distributed among midwives throughout Michigan.

“If a midwife can do a screening and identify hearing loss in an infant, that baby can then be further tested and treated very young, which will improve his or her speech and language development,” Palmer said.

According to Palmer, approximately two in every 1,000 babies are born with a hearing loss and 95 percent of those babies are born to parents who both have normal hearing.

Five training sessions — that included an online course provided by the Michigan Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program and two hours of hands-on training by Palmer, Asher, Switalski and CMU graduate students with the AABR machines — have been completed. A total of 47 midwives, doulas and midwifery students have been taught how to complete and report the results of the hearing screening.

Grand Rapids native and audiology graduate student Brittny Burdick worked with Palmer to help provide training to the midwives. Burdick is researching the program’s effectiveness.

“A survey was sent to those who participated in a training session,” Burdick said. “The results from the midwives who responded to the survey showed that 94 percent of them had not been performing newborn hearing screenings prior to the training they received, but 100 percent have administered five or more newborn hearing screenings since they completed the training.”

In addition, Burdick said that all of the trained midwives were providing a follow-up hearing test if the baby did not pass the screening the first time around.

“Babies born at home benefit from trained midwives who know how to do newborn hearing screenings,” Burdick said. “Through the Michigan Midwives Project, we can help ensure that all babies receive a newborn hearing screening regardless of where they are born.”


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Lisa Keith