Starkey helping those with hearing loss overcome pandemic

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The pandemic has been difficult for almost everyone, but it has affected people experiencing hearing loss in simple but profound ways.

It’s hard enough to communicate with masks, through plexiglass and while keeping a social distance. Now imagine all that if you already struggle to hear.

"I can’t communicate with the cashiers because I just can’t understand what they’re saying, so I just kind of have to look down and hurry up and pay for my things and go," said 20-year old Allie Hillesheim of Mankato.

She just received a free set of hearing aids valued at $4,000 courtesy of Starkey Cares, a corporate social responsibility initiative of hearing aid manufacturer Starkey Hearing Technologies.

The Eden Prairie-based company invited three members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation and a state lawmaker to their corporate headquarters to learn more about the company’s post-pandemic initiative. The company is reaching out to people who suffered economically or couldn’t access hearing health care during the pandemic.

"For us, better hearing is bipartisan, especially because May is Better Hearing Month," says Starkey CEO Brandon Sawalich. "We really want to find the people who do need that help, so we’re really all about that accessibility and letting them know there is a place they can come, and it’s our corporate social responsibility to give back."

Republican Reps. Tom Emmer and Michele Fischbach and Democratic Rep. Angie Craig all represented Minnesota’s congressional delegation. State Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, was there from the Minnesota Legislature.

"This is kind of COVID innovation because we know we had the barriers of the masks, plus the barriers of plexiglass and then social distancing," Franzen said after visiting with Starkey patients and hearing aid technicians.

"I think this is an example of why the private sector does such a good job with these things," Rep. Emmer told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. "Government certainly has a place, but here at Starkey, these are innovators."

Innovators making a difference in the lives of people like Allie Hillesheim.

"This is just something so nice that someone would go out of his way to do something like this," she said after being fitted with new hearing aids free of charge. "Help us people that can’t hear as well become involved in the community again."

The company is likely to give out more than 100 sets of free hearing aids this year.