'I will be living a life in silence': Sask. teen speaking out against cuts to hearing aid program

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'I will be living a life in silence': Sask. teen speaking out against cuts to hearing aid program

Parents are outraged over the Saskatchewan government's axing of the 44-year-old Hearing Aid Plan, and they aren't the only ones.

Thirteen-year-old Mary-Jayne Morris and other youth are speaking out against the end of the program.

The plan will be phased out for everyone except low-income residents, eliminating its coverage of audiological evaluation and subsidized hearing aids.

Mary-Jayne has enlisted the support of friends and family to protest the cut. The Saskatoon girl has asked her school for permission to circulate a petition.

"This cannot happen," Mary-Jayne said in an email to CBC News. "It's not fair for me and everyone else that it affects."

Mary-Jayne's cochlear malformation requires hearing aids and other services. Under the public Hearing Aid Plan, parents paid roughly $1,000 for hearing aids. They had access to prompt repair service or replacement to minimize time spent "unaided."

In the private sector, such devices cost roughly $5,000. Advocates say servicing can take much longer, leaving children unable to communicate with their family, friends or teachers.

Mary-Jayne may have to quit playing soccer because the family won't be able to afford it, said her father, Peter.

Mary-Jayne's mother, Jayne, said she's proud of her daughter for fighting. They'll support her 100 per cent, she said.

"I'm feeling very frustrated. It's hard for people to know what it's like," Mary-Jayne said.

In the provincial budget unveiled last month, provincial officials said they had to make cuts to rein in the growing provincial debt.

The Hearing Aid Plan will end July 1, and there will also be cuts to audiology staff.

Saskatchewan Health director of client services Dave Morhart and director of licensing Dawn Skalicky-Souliere said the cuts won't affect some specialized hearing services for children. Hearing aids and evaluations will still be covered for low-income families, but delivered by the private sector.

Morhart said he's confident service will not suffer, and they're working on the plan.

"The details are yet to be finalized, but the Ministry is working with private hearing aid clinics to develop a plan," he said.

Advocates are skeptical, and say the cuts will make a bad situation even worse.

Saskatchewan already has fewer audiologists per capita than any other province. It's one of the only provinces without comprehensive hearing tests for newborns. And it received one of the worst grades in a recent national study for its treatment of the deaf and hard of hearing.

The changes announced in the Saskatchewan budget will make things even worse, said Speech-Language and Audiology Canada board chair Jerri-Lee MacKay.

"We're very concerned about what's going on. Most provinces are already far ahead of Saskatchewan," she said.

"The consequences will be significant."

Marilyn Barrington, a board member with the hearing advocacy group Saskatchewan AG Bell, said this decision affects 40,000 people across Saskatchewan who require hearing services.

"People were blindsided by this, so yes, we're hoping for reversal," Barrington said. "There's no contingency plan. There's nothing. We haven't heard anything."

She said the private sector makes decisions primarily based on profit, not the public good. In any case, the private sector "does not have the capacity" to handle the expected demand.

"Everyone is in shock."

Mary-Jayne said she's dreading the moment when her hearing aids malfunction and her family is left scrambling to get them repaired or replaced.

"I will be living a life in silence."