Your Story (September 2013)

Peer-to-peer exchanges provide exceptional opportunities for knowledge transfer but more importantly for the discovery or rediscovery of camaraderie and common purpose within our profession. For this reason, ADA facilitates the sharing of member experiences through “Your Story”. This month we feature Dr. Mary Lou Luebbe-Gearhart, Au.D., President, Luebbe Hearing Services in Columbus, OH.

AP: Please describe your practice (how long in business, # locations).

ML: Hello, I am Dr. Mary Lou Luebbe–Gearhart, celebrating 40 years as President of Luebbe Hearing Services in Central Ohio, with offices in Columbus (North High Centre), Circleville (Berger Hospital Professional Arts Bldg) and Canal Winchester (Tri County Medical Specialty). I have been in love with the healing power and goodness of audiology since I was three years old!

My father was a pioneer in electronics, and established our practice in 1946 (67 years ago) to help our WWII veterans returning home with battle and noise-induced hearing loss. He would visit some of them in the hospital, inspire them to go on with life, get a job, then save their marriage. After they could buy shoes for their children, they would pay my father for the hearing aids that made their new lives possible. In addition, one of my Dad’s brothers had an acquired hearing loss due to a high fever during childhood. Dad believed in Binaural and CROS fittings back in the 1950s. It’s been interesting to watch, first hand, the evolution of our profession and hearing aid technology.

We have an amazing, full-time “team” of doctors of audiology, clinical audiologists and hearing instrument specialists with over 135 years of combined experience. We, and our patients, are supported by our dedicated front office patient-care-coordinators (even our new receptionist has a bachelor’s degree in hearing and speech science), a scheduling and follow-up coordinator, a billing clerk, a bookkeeper and an experienced practice manager. I joined Audigy Group in June 2005 and contributed to our best practices and procedures. My Staff and I are very dedicated to the art of “relationship audiology” and independent private practice. We love our patients. We value continuing education and team-building experiences.

Last year I had an accident, and was “immobilized” at home, unable to walk or stand for six months! When the ambulance arrived, one of the paramedics recognized me and sang my jingle! What a moment. I am very proud of my team for stepping up and keeping the practice going in my absence. Every Friday after work, they would prepare meals so my husband (now canonized “Saint” David) didn’t have to spend time in the kitchen on the weekend. Those flowers, cards, prayers and well wishes from patients and business associates kept me very positive. I used that “gift” of time at home, to co-author an inspirational book about my experience and life, “Succeeding Against All Odds”. It became a #1 Best Seller on Amazon! I have another project for entrepreneurial business growth and acceleration to be published later this year. Overcoming obstacles just makes you stronger and more determined to accomplish your mission.

AP: What motivated you to open a private practice?

ML: It was an early childhood experience and a promise I made. I remember visiting my father’s office (at age 3) and saw, for the first time, a man sobbing with uncontrollable tears streaming down his cheeks. I asked Dad, “Why is that big man crying?” He said, “That man couldn’t hear, and now with hearing aids he can. And that’s what ‘JOY’ looks like. You’ll bring joy, too.” At that moment I knew what I would do for the rest of my life! I was “dedicated” on the spot.

As I grew up, I worked in the office, gained lots of experience and learned about people and technology. I was still a student at The Ohio State University when my father suffered a massive stroke. Before he died I promised him I would continue his legacy, our family business, and take care of my mother and his patients for life. That was a “leap of faith”.

My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration and Marketing. I worked full time at the office and continued in graduate school at OSU for a Master’s in Audiology. I served on the Board of ADA (then the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists) from 1987 to 1990. Before earning my Au.D from the University of Florida in 2001, I helped to transition Audiology to a professional doctorate through the Audiology Foundation of America’s (AFA) Earned Entitlement program with Dr. David Goldstein and Dr. George Osborne in 1996.

Private practice fosters growth, both personal and professional. You have to be more, love more and do more. All audiologists want to make a difference in their patients’ lives no matter what the setting. However, when the family of a deceased patient mentions you in her obituary, you know you’ve received the ultimate testimonial and compliment.

AP: What makes your practice one of the most respected in your area?

ML: I would say it is the 67 years of longevity, integrity, innovation, community involvement and patient care. It’s work and planning. It doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s passion. It’s mission. It’s word of mouth. It’s connecting. It’s delivering.

We recently received the Better Business Bureau’s “Heritage Business Award” for over 60 years of ethics and excellence in business. After receiving the award I was invited to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Central Ohio BBB. First I asked how much time this would involve…then I said yes. We have been honored as one of the “Outstanding Family Businesses in Central Ohio”, and have received the “Consumers’ Choice Award” for Hearing Care every year since the category was initiated. We are active in Chambers of Commerce, and support health and wellness events. “Get Educated...Get Luebbe-cated”! We bring Audiology out of the office and to the people.

AP:What does the term “best practices” mean to you?

ML: It’s the “opportunity” we have to “blend” our knowledge, character and integrity, experience and intuition with state-of-the-art equipment and successful protocols that benefit our patients in the best ways possible. It’s consistency, research, documentation, attention to details, involvement and education of families and patients, validation and verification of hearing aid fittings and outcome measures.

AP: What has been your greatest lesson learned from your experiences as a business owner?

ML: You’re only as good as the people you hire, and motivation comes from within. Team building and “alignment” bring balance and peace within a practice. Having fun, mutual respect and trust with each other creates the environment for success.

AP: If you could advise a new graduate deciding on a professional setting, what advice would you give them?

ML: Know thyself! Know your personality and what you want to accomplish. What is your “WHY”? Deep down, are you an “out of the box” rebel with passion, great stamina and enthusiasm who loves people and variety? Or, do you need structure, 9-5, and a pension? Some people build ships, some people sail them. Both are honorable pursuits. What view from your window do you want?

AP: What do you like best about being an audiologist?

ML: I love to solve mysteries, overcome obstacles and bring out the best in people. I love the challenge of making things better in the world. That’s why we’re here. Being an audiologist reminds me of being a Girl Scout, and living by “the Camp Site Rule”. In a figure of speech, that meant we picked up the litter and improved the camp site and left it more functional and more enjoyable than when we found it. Like paying it forward. We didn’t just walk by and let someone else deal with it. We got involved because it was the right thing to do. Substitute the word “patient” for camp site.

When we see patients in need of hearing help, it’s our responsibility to become so good at what we do that eventually the “litter” from a hearing loss can disappear. Instead of telling people that their hearing is normal for their age, or it’s not bad enough for hearing aids, or they can still hear out of one ear, or they should go home and think about it for 6 months…we need to increase the % of people who choose to “clean up their campsite”. They just need our leadership to show them how and why. Perhaps that would improve the statistic that has been the SAME since the 1950s, namely…Only 23% of people with treatable hearing loss get help. I also enjoy mentoring doctoral students. They’re our future.

AP: I know you have many, but could you tell us about one of your memorable patients?

ML: My oldest patient was 114. She taught me it’s never too late, and you’re never too old, to hear well. In fact, she was the oldest person in the United States. Her sister was 106. (Wouldn’t you love to swim in their gene pool?). We met when her daughter asked me to make a house call to convince her mother that the noises in her head were not due to crickets infesting their new carpeting. Her mother had definite beliefs.

To make a long story short, she enjoyed a residual inhibition of tinnitus and improved speech clarity after I fitted her with hearing aids. Soon after that, “Time” magazine interviewed her. She had lost her vision, but was staying “young and frisky” because her digital hearing aids and remote control enabled her to stay connected with her family.

One day her son, an Ophthalmologist from a state “Out West”, flew his private plane to Ohio and requested I fit him with hearing aids so he could continue to sing in a Barber Shop Quartet. He said he had a drawer full of hearing aids at home that he couldn’t use due to occlusion and poor sound quality.He said, “My mother told me to come to you, and she knows best”. He was fitted and thrilled. Now he could stay on pitch, harmonize and enjoy the quartet!

AP: Tell us about the 1-2 people in your life that were influential in your career path?

ML: My father taught me about helping people, being tolerant and keeping a positive attitude. My mother taught me to follow my dreams. She was 90 years “young” when she retired from my practice, and we celebrated her birthday in Paris. It’s so important to have, or give, a purpose in life.

I always admired Bill Austin because he was innovative, he created “win-win” situations and touched hearts as well as ears. He too was a man with a mission.

AP: Where would you like to see the profession of Audiology in 10 years?

ML: First, I would hope there’s not an “App” to replace us. We must remain close to the ultimate consumer. Second, I would hope that WE are the autonomous, science-based humanitarians responsible for eventually changing that embarrassing statistic from 23% to 90% of patients getting treatment. I’d love to see bumper stickers stating: “Is life better? THANK an audiologist.”

As a member of the Board of Trustees of People-to-People International, a group founded by President Eisenhower on September 11, 1956, I share the belief that world peace through understanding is possible. I hope that by then, hearing aids play a major role. Each time I select a foreign language in the fitting software for the “indicator”, I imagine how helpful it would be if the instruments could be programmed to “translate” from a “foreign language”( input) to the language of the user (output).

In the words of Lily Tomlin, “If people could hear and understand better, maybe history wouldn’t have to repeat itself.”