Patricia Van Hoof, Audiologist and her husband Dan Fisher have seen ups and downs during the COVID-19 pandemic period while attempting to provide hearing services across the North Shore.
With the rollout of the vaccines, they expect that their business they began 10 years ago will return to normal operations.
The couple own and operate three Algoma Hearing Centre clinics located in Elliot Lake, Blind River and Sault Ste. Marie.
“We had a big promotion, and I couldn’t believe the response,” Van Hoof said of the opening of the Elliot Lake clinic in September 2014. “We thought, over a couple of days we’d get 20 people, but we got 60 people. It was unbelievable.”
The business services include ear cleaning and wax removal, hearing aid repairs and maintenance, and testing to find out how to improve patient hearing.
“We also do auditory processing and testing for children. Not every clinic does wax removal and you would think it would be an automatic for a hearing clinic but it’s not. We offer home visits, nursing home visits and fitting of hearing aids and accessories,” Van Hoof added.
She acknowledged that technological advances in hearing aids have made them smaller with other capabilities such as Bluetooth.
The company’s six employees include a second Audiologist, Kassidy McDougall, Hearing Instrument Dispenser Marilyn Kelly, Audrey Talbott, Hearing Instrument Specialist Student, Travis Zagar, Administrative Assistant/Front Reception (Sault office) Danyal Pierre, Reception (Blind River and Elliot Lake offices), and Linda Zagar, Administrative Assistant. Fisher handles marketing and maintenance work at the three clinic locations.
The employees live in communities between Elliot Lake and the Sault which means they can be switched to do work between the various clinics.
The couple opened their first clinic in Blind River in 2011 and the Sault clinic in 2012.
In 2004 the Ontario government removed OHIP coverage for hearing tests and the hearing professional organization decided to establish set charges and provide some services for free, such as hearing tests.
The profession was not considered an “essential service” during the first pandemic shutdown so last March Van Hoof was forced to close her clinics.
“I was forced to close my doors and lay off my staff, but I couldn’t leave my clients hanging so I would go into the office in the Sault and there would be 20 phone calls, 20 return messages so I was doing curbside, my car became my office and I ran between the three offices,” she said.
During the second lockdown, clinics were considered essential, which meant taking appointments and having pandemic measures put in place. Van Hoof continued to do home visits at the door only for clients unable to visit the clinics.
They are hoping the pandemic will end soon and their business, along with all Ontario businesses, can return to normal operations.