November 2021 Newsletter: LIFTT praises Billings Clinic for response to hearing impaired patients
The outbreak of the Coronavirus has dramatically affected peoples’ lives and relationships. Along with countless tragedies, there have been many stories on unexpected positive aspects. The story below is just one example of the positive experiences fostered by Covid-19.
Imagine being unable to communicate painful symptoms and crippling fears while you are in the throes of Covid-19 infection. That happened to Carlos Ramalho, 60, a robust and energetic executive director of the Billings nonprofit organization Living Independently for Today and Tomorrow (LIFTT), which serves Montanans living with disabilities in eighteen counties in the southeastern portion of the state.
Carlos lost his hearing and became deaf in 2006. Even though he uses hearing aids, Carlos relies on lip-reading and facial expressions to communicate. He is fluent in lip-reading and is so skilled at communicating with people that many are shocked to learn of his deafness.
In November 2020, what Carlos thought was just a cold exploded into a full-blown respiratory attack that showed symptoms of Covid-19. He reluctantly followed his doctor’s order to get to the Billings Clinic emergency department ASAP.
To his dismay, per hospital safety precautions regarding potential Covid-19 cases, the ED staff were unable to remove their masks to communicate with Carlos. “It was impossible to describe what I was going through, he said. “It was frightening and frustrating. “Carlos added the inability to communicate was far worse than coping with Covid -19.
Eventually, one of the nurses pulled out a pen and pad and wrote out her triage questions, allowing Carlos to fully describe his symptoms. Carlos tested positive, and he spent two weeks recuperating at home. He said recovery was eased thanks to the online care via the What’s App platform from Dr. Pedro M Quintana Diez, an epidemiologist he met while living in Europe.
In 2021, now fully vaccinated, Carlos was in the Emergency Department again seeking treatment for a different health issue. To his surprise, after he disclosed his deafness at check-in, all ED staff members were wearing full clear protective shields, allowing him to effortlessly communicate with hospital staff.
“I was so happy I could see their faces, read their lips, and understand what they were saying,” he said, “The shields eliminated the barrier that was preventing us from communicating and helped me focus on receiving the health care I needed, instead of grappling with the frustration I felt for being deaf.”
It’s wonderful to know that Carlos is doing well,” said Brad Von Bergen, Billings Clinic Emergency Department Manager.
“The Emergency Department is an incredible learning environment and communication is critical. We have had to learn new ways to do this because of this pandemic to ensure our patients continue to get the care they need. Carlos’ experience provided the opportunity to gain experience how we could continue to improve communication for all of our patients.”