New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center: A History

On July 11, 1934, with the help of Dr. Otto Joachim, the League for the Hard of Hearing was incorporated to serve the needs of hearing impaired/deaf children in New Orleans. The League was housed at the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital at 145 Elk Place and was primarily an educational program for children. The name was changed to the Louisiana League for the Hard of Hearing on November 7, 1938. There was another name change to the New Orleans League for Better Hearing on November 18, 1946. The New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center, as it currently operates, was incorporated on April 30, 1959. With this change, the services of the Center expanded to include the diagnosis and treatment of speech and hearing disorders for the community.

When told that the Center would have to move from its two-room offices in the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital at Elk Place volunteers responded to the challenge. With the help of Dr. Suzanne Schaeffer, a local pediatrician who recognized the importance of services to children with speech and hearing disorders, and David M. Baird, a philanthropist in New York, the Center purchased, renovated and moved to the current facility at 1636 Toledano Street. The building was sold to the Center on October 27, 1965 and in March 1967 Susan Kohlmeyer, a child, formally opened the Center at its new home.

Dr. Jack Rosen was the Center’s director from 1959 until his retirement in 1980. He continued as a consultant until 1985. Jack died in April 1993. Jack was instrumental in changing the focus of the Center to one of service delivery to the community and introduced treatment of reading disorders by speech language pathologists, a controversial concept at the time. Lesley Jernigan became the Executive Director on January 2, 1985. He had previously worked at the Center as a staff Speech Language Pathologist and Clinic Coordinator from 1979 – 1981.

As the need for services expanded, satellite offices were opened at 1820 Franklin Avenue in Gretna on the West Bank in 1977 and in Slidell in 1978. With the oil crash of the mid-80’s, the satellites caused a severe financial loss for the Center and the West Bank facility was closed in 1987. Free space was secured to provide services, but, once all clinical staff secured other jobs, services on the West Bank were terminated. The Slidell office closed in August 1989 when the sole Speech Language Pathologist secured other employment. The agency moved all furnishing, equipment and services to the Toledano location.

The Center is a United Way partner agency and a member of and accredited by the National Association of Speech and Hearing Centers. As a 501(c)3 non-profit agency, the Center is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors chosen from the community.

Through the years, the focus of the Center has changed to meet the needs of the community and to reflect professional trends but remained true to its mission. Currently, the Center continues to meet the needs of children and adults with speech, language, hearing, and related disorders through assessment and treatment. Additionally, a wide variety of hearing aids and assistive listening devices are now available at the Center. Children with language-learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder and reading disorders are also treated by the speech language pathologists. Specialized testing for Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) is conducted by the audiologists and the speech language pathologists with remediation available at the Center. From limited clinical offices on the first and second floors, the Center has expanded to include specialty therapy suites designed to offer group and individual therapy settings throughout the three-story building.


Occupational and Physical Therapy services were added in 1998 but discontinued in 1999 when the funding source was discontinued. Psychological services are also available at the Center from Dr. Scuddy Fontenelle and the doctoral students he supervises from Tulane University, LSU and other institutions. Grant funding over the years has allowed the Audiology department to upgrade to state-of-the-art equipment for testing and fitting of hearing aids, especially on infants and young children.


1999 saw the introduction of the Center for Academic Success, which provides multi-disciplinary evaluation and intervention services for students. This program brought together all of the services of the Center with those of the psychologist under one roof for comprehensive assessment, remediation and monitoring. The Center also added vision screening to the services provided in the private school and day care settings. Through a grant from the Compaq Classic, two machines were purchased so that vision screenings could become a part of the standard protocol for speech and language evaluations. The Board approved the installation of a new phone system that significantly increased the efficiency of the agency.


Through grant money received in 2000, an Otoacoustic Emission System was purchased, thus allowing the Center to enhance its ability to further test infants and other difficult to test populations. Audiology also added digital hearing aids to our selection. Another significant change was the introduction of a new logo and print image change. The façade of the building changed when an awning was added over the front entrance.


In 2001, the battery of diagnostic tests required by the speech language department was expanded thanks to a grant from TEXACO. Additional grant requests have been submitted for expanded supplies and equipment. The Compaq Classic Foundation awarded a $6,000 grant that was used to establish a Center for Excellence for Central Auditory Processing Disorders assessment and remediation. Funds were used to purchase a comprehensive battery of CAPD tests for audiology and diagnostic and therapy supplies for the speech language pathology department and to provide scholarships for CAPD testing. Through Representative Renee’ Pratt, a grant was obtained that provided funds for psychological and psycho-educational testing for clients seen at the Cetner. An addition grant of $2,500 was awarded by Texaco and used to establish an Assistive Listening Devices lab in the audiology department.


The Compaq Classic changed its name to Fore!Kids Foundation and, for 2002 we received an $8,000 grant to purchase additional diagnostic materials and provide scholarships for children requesting fee reductions for therapy. Additional computers were purchased for the Lab, leading to establishment of a simultaneous individual therapy program. Additional software and materials for remediation of reading disorders was purchased. The Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Foundation awarded a 3-year grant totalling $85,182 to provide vision, hearing, speech and language screenings to 3,000 preschool children. To fulfill this grant a second full-time audiologist was hired and new testing equipment purchased. Entergy Foundation provided funding that allowed for the purchase of books and educational toys for a Literacy Lending Library from which parents may secure materials for speech language simulation in the home.


Additionally, for 2003, funding was again provided by the Fore!Kids Foundation that allowed the Center, in collaboration with the Bright School, to produce educational videos on hearing aid placement and management and how to successfully read to young children using both oral and manual communication. An Auditory Brainstem Response system, required for comprehensive testing of infants, was purchased with funds from the Goldring Family Foundation and a testing suite established on third floor. During this year, the Center served 4,227 children and 320 adults.


During 2004 the Fore!Kids Foundation granted additional funding for equipment and therapy supplies for working with children requiring Alternative Augmentative Communication systems. The Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Foundation approved continuation of the original grant for an additional 3 years allowing 1000 children each year, ages birth to five, to received age appropriate vision, hearing, speech and language screenings. This grant also provided for the purchase of a new tympanometer for specialized testing in the Audiology Department. An AT&T Foundation Grant of $1,000 allowed for the purchase of audiometric testing equipment for out-of-Center screenings. The Board of Directors began initial planning to upgrade the building and clinical areas and our first major fund raising event to secure funds for the renovations was held. We participated in a Management Infrastructure Project through the Center for Non-Profit Resources as a self-examination of the Center’s operation.


2005 was the year of change! The Center re-opened on October 17 in a storm damaged, but unflooded building. Having lost 85% of our staff, many of whom never returned, our 2 speech language pathologists, 1 audiologist and 1 accountant worked with the director to advise all referral sources and clients of our opening and to begin serving those residents who had relocated to the unflooded areas. We hired 4 speech language pathologists whose practices did not reopen and welcomed several of our staff back during the year. We secured a grant from the Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Foundation to provide hearing aids to individuals needing financial assistance. The board reassembled and held its first meeting post-Katrina in January 2006. Our second annual fundraiser was completed with funds earmarked for building renovation. Stand-up funding was received from United Way to restart the Center and United Way grants were awarded during the year.


Building repairs and staff and client expansion continued during 2006. The Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Foundation also re-structured their grant to provide vision, hearing and speech-language screenings in the charter schools. An SBA loan was secured to fund storm related building repairs that exceeded the insurance settlement. Our 3rd special event also provided funds for building up-grades, especially in the treatment areas. The Fore!Kids Foundation provided grant funding for the overall operation of the Center during recovery. Our biggest grant of $140,000 was received from the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund, upon recommendation of the Fore!Kids Foundation, to fund the Language Says It All Program for two years. This Program was a collaborative with NOSHC, The Bright School and Rayne Child Care program (Rayne Memorial Church). With no building, The Bright School became a

permanent tenant of the Center and moved into a 3rd floor suite. The Language Says It All Program is an intensive resource room program serving children, ages 6 months through 5 years, who are Deaf, hard-of-hearing and those with cochlear implants, and speech-language disordered in a licensed child care facility with typical peers.


In 2007, we surpassed our pre-Katrina staff size and served significantly more clients than any time in our history. By end of year, we had provided services to 8,644 individuals in the Center, the TCA Head Start Centers, and in private, parochial, charter and preschool programs. Building repairs, renovations and upgrades to the clinical areas continued. TUnited Way funded more grants and another successful special event provided funds for building work. The board aggressively recruited new members and continued policy revisions, including: establishment of an Audit Committee, establishing a Conflict of Interest policy, and revised the Mission Statement. The Louisiana Business Recovery program awarded a $20,000 grant to purchase diagnostic and therapy supplies and inventory to address the expansion of clinical staff and clients. The Fore!Kids Foundation provided funding for a technology upgrade providing computers for all clinical staff. The Campfire Boys and Girls organization moved into office space on the 3rd floor.


The themes of recovery, rebuilding, and expansion guided the Center as they continued to rebound in 2008. Primary focuses included building repairs and renovation along with staff expansion. Building changes included the build out of 3 new offices in the Audiology Department and waiting area upgrades. Waiting room artwork was purchased by a special Macy’s fundraising event. A bilingual Speech Language Pathologist was added to the staff and Language to Literacy doubled from 2 to 4 classes.

FY 2009-2010

While Fiscal Year (FY) 2009-2010 provided some challenges with the economic downturn, major additions to the Center provided opportunities for growth. The board members hosted the 2nd Open House since Katrina to introduce the Center to potential board members, donors, and clients. They also sponsored the 7th Annual special fundraising event. The Audiology Department successfully hosted their first Oticon Hearing Aid Open House earning strong profits for the Center and introduced the latest technology in hearing aids.

Additional grants were secured as well. Fore!Kids Foundation grant of $8,000 was awarded to continue the Language to Literacy program and Autism Groups. The Autism Group held a camp during the summer with these funds. The EENT (Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat) Foundation renewed screening and hearing aid grants for 2010. There was also the establishment of a hearing program at Lighthouse for the Blind with EENT funds. The grant provides monthly hearing clinics that include hearing screenings, follow up evaluations and when warranted, the prescribing and dispensing of hearing aids. The services are available to all employees and clients of the Lighthouse.

Camp Fire Boys and Girls offices on the third floor were vacated and replaced by Each One Save One. Other notable FY 2009-10 changes were the upgrades to the website and the board meeting format was changed to focus more on education and member interaction.

FY 2010-2011

As recovery became more and more a reality, FY 2010-2011 Board of Directors shifted their focus towards the future. Increased number of board members led to the publication of 2 newsletters, reworking of the website, advertisements in NOLA Baby and Family Magazine, the 3rd Open House event, and the 8th Special Event fundraiser held in a new venue. NOSHC also successfully participated in NOLA BabyFest.

The Fore!Kids Foundation grant was again secured for Language to Literacy and Autism Groups. A Junior League Grant was used successfully for the purchase of Bilingual Language group materials. Reily Foods Foundation provided funding that initiated renovations to the business office. EENT Foundation increased their screening and hearing aid grant to serve more individuals by the end of the 2010. They also approved additional funding to pay for transportation for Lighthouse for the Blind clients to the Center.

The EENT grant funded two new diagnostic audiometers and an ABaer screener for the Audiology Department. The ABaer, auditory brainstem response screener, is used to diagnose hearing loss in infants. It detects 99.96% of hearing disorders, estimates hearing sensitivity within 10 minutes, and does not require a response from the patient. The addition of the aforementioned state-of-the-art equipment furthered NOSHC’s excellence and dedication to the community. Also continuing excellence in personnel, Ashley Brewer, the Audiology Coordinator, was appointed by the Department of Health and Hospitals as the Regional Coordinator for the Region 1 New Born Hearing Screening Program. As the task force leader she is responsible for monitoring and coordinating newborn hearing screenings for Touro Infirmary. Infants who do not pass the hearing screening at Touro are sent to NOSHC. We have been providing follow up testing for infants born at Touro since 2002.

FY 2011-2012

FY 2011-2012 was a year of beginnings. The number of clients serviced reached 11,000. Structurally, fifty percent of the business office redesign was completed. The Communication and Education Coordinator position was officially added leading to publishing of quarterly newsletters and redesigning of the website.

NOSHC began a relationship with the New Orleans Musicians’ Assistance Foundation to conduct hearing evaluations for the musicians. NOSHC offers custom fit musician’s ear plugs that are designed to protect hearing while preserving the subtlety and complexity of music.

2012 was the year that NOSHC was welcomed into the Lambeth House. NOSHC provides a once a month hearing aid clinic that includes basic hearing aid training and hearing aid consumer education for residents and staff.

Another important beginning in 2012 was the opening of NOSHC’s first satellite office since 1978. The Methodist Health System Foundation fully funded the opening of the office, now called NOSHC East, on July 1, 2012. NOSHC East is located on 5640 Read Blvd, Suite 460, New Orleans, LA, 70127 on the campus of the old Methodist Hospital. During year one, NOSHC East will provide speech language pathology assessments and treatment. The goal is to add limited audiology in year two.

Methodist Health System Foundation and Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Foundation continue to support vision and hearing screening for 9th and 11th grade students at Chalmette High School, a service started in 2005.

More innovative programming to address the ever changing needs in the community will continue as the New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center continues to make its mark as a valuable resource for the New Orleans community and the region.

MISSION: To improve the communication of children and adults who are affected by speech, language and hearing disorders, in order to improve their quality of life and help them connect with others.