News / Calgary

Alberta lags far behind other provinces in screening babies for hearing problems

Nearly every baby born in British Columbia is now screened for hearing impairment, but most Alberta infants don’t receive the same service, say a group of audiologists who are calling on the province to improve access.

“I would say it’s much less than half,” said Holly Gusnowsky, director of professional practice with the Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologist and Audiologists.

Gusnowsky said she’s only aware of two health centres in the province that do screening for healthy newborns – one in Grande Prairie and one in Medicine Hat.

“There are no well babies being screened in Edmonton or Calgary,” she said.

Most provinces see more than 90 per cent of babies screened, according to a report released Tuesday by Speech-Language and Audiology Canada, which gave Alberta a failing grade in this area.

The report noted that the Alberta government announced plans to implement province-wide screening in March 2013 but has taken “no further action since that time.”

Alberta Health couldn’t say Tuesday exactly where screening of healthy babies is currently taking place.

Spokesman Tim Wilson initially told Metro the province “is piloting the universal newborn hearing screening project at 10 health centres” but that conflicts with what Gusnowsky said and with what Alberta Health Services says online.

AHS lists four service locations on the “Universal Newborn Hearing Screening” section of its website: Bow Island, Brooks, Medicine Hat, and Oyen.

Gusnowsky said many Alberta children born with hearing problems don’t have the problems detected until age two or three when they display speech and developmental delays.

“Basically the child has gone through auditory deprivation for two and a half years,” she said. “And that’s not acceptable.”

Between 3 and 5 babies per 1,000 are born with hearing problems, Gusnowsky said.

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