Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center: How We Became Who We Are The Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is one of the nation’s largest freestanding nonprofit centers for people with communication disorders. CEO Janet Maher shares some of the secrets of the center’s success. When I first walked into my office after joining the Buffalo ... Features
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Features  |   March 01, 2004
Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center: How We Became Who We Are
Author Notes
  • Janet Maher, is a speech-language pathologist and CEO of the Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center. Contact her by e-mail at jmaher@askbhsc.org.
    Janet Maher, is a speech-language pathologist and CEO of the Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center. Contact her by e-mail at jmaher@askbhsc.org.×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Hearing Disorders / Features
Features   |   March 01, 2004
Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center: How We Became Who We Are
The ASHA Leader, March 2004, Vol. 9, 4-19. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.09042004.4
The ASHA Leader, March 2004, Vol. 9, 4-19. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.09042004.4
The Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is one of the nation’s largest freestanding nonprofit centers for people with communication disorders. CEO Janet Maher shares some of the secrets of the center’s success.
When I first walked into my office after joining the Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center (BHSC) in 1986, I saw a bookshelf lined with books that clearly had been charred by fire. Touring the center, I noticed that the outside walls of the audiology sound booth also were charred. Soon afterward I learned that a fire in a nearby research laboratory in the 1950s had destroyed the center’s original home. The charred books and sound booth had been saved using a crane loaned by a local construction company.
Although the center was left with very meager physical assets, it had retained something priceless-a small group of caring people, including staff and community leaders, dedicated to its mission. That is an asset that been central to its success for more than 50 years. In l953, a group of otolaryngologists in Buffalo grew frustrated that patients needing hearing tests had no access to audiology services. With the support of local business people, they created a not-for-profit organization, rented a small office, and hired an audiologist. Several years later, they hired their first speech-language pathologist. Following the fire, a local foundation helped BHSC buy a converted Georgian home for $25,000 that served as the center’s home for the next 40 years.
Over five decades, BHSC has grown from that small community organization into a major comprehensive health care and education facility offering a full range of sophisticated diagnostic and treatment services for the care of communication disorders. The center currently employs about 300 people-including more than l00 speech-language pathologists-in four locations and operates with a $10 million budget.
Quality Improvement
Upon assuming the role of chief executive officer of BHSC in 1986, I felt very committed to making a difference for my hometown community. Previously, I had served as director of a hearing and speech center in a neighboring county. Early in my career as an SLP, I made the difficult decision to switch to administrative work with the hope that more people would benefit if our programs were developed and expanded.
In 1986 the center’s physical resources were still meager and funding practically non-existent. But BHSC’s greatest asset remained-17 dedicated staff members who unselfishly purchased their own supplies and equipment. The philosophy of expanding services to the community resulted in the initiation of new programs and services, the hiring of the most qualified SLPs and audiologists, and the establishment of a continuous quality improvement (CQI) program in 1987. BHSC leadership cultivated strong relationships with local training institutions in speech-language pathology and audiology, as well as with the local medical community.
Through the years, the CQI program has become one of our greatest strengths. We studied important aspects of the practice, and multi-disciplinary teams addressed important issues. Currently all full-time staff, including support personnel, participate on a quality improvement team. Teams function in the areas of Education & Training, Health Information, Infection Control, Safety, Speech-Language Pathology, and Audiology. Each team sets measurable goals annually and studies opportunities for improvement in critical areas.
The CQI program undergoes an annual review and adjustment. Some teams are sunsetted and new teams initiated to respond to changes in speech-language pathology and audiology. Many improvements have resulted from staff investment and teamwork in the CQI program. For example, an accreditation team formed in 1992, and within two years BHSC had applied for and received accreditation from ASHA’s Professional Services Board (PSB).
Board of Directors
A strong board of directors from a variety of backgrounds-many of whom are leaders from different sectors of the Buffalo community-is important to the success of BHSC. The board’s ongoing involvement has brought great strength through the years. As a 15-member group, they are committed to recruiting dedicated local leaders who bring professional skills in areas including law, accounting, architecture, medicine, business, banking, and education. They are also very committed to observing three-year term limits, recognizing that new members bring fresh ideas to the board.
Samuel J. Savarino, a local business owner and community leader and the grandson of a laryngectomee, was elected chair of the BHSC board in January 2003. As a contractor who helped make our new facility a reality, Savarino has tirelessly dedicated his time, talent, and support to BHSC for more than 10 years. “The center plays an important role in Buffalo. The services and programs offered at the center help many people, both young and old, live a better life,” he said.
During the 1990s the center continued to expand its services and staff, gained ASHA PSB accreditation, and grew into a regional hearing and speech center. To facilitate continued growth and quality improvement, the board of directors voted to build a state-of-the-art facility and approved the development of a capital campaign to seek philanthropic support. Key supporters of the project included foundation and corporate leaders, and local government officials. The community’s strong support of BHSC made the capital campaign successful, with more than $1 million raised to help finance the project.
More Than Bricks and Mortar
In 1995 BHSC opened the doors to its new home-a 47,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo. The custom-built structure includes sound-insulated walls throughout the facility and ample space for a complete range of services, including the Speech-Language Pathology Program, the Audiology Program, the Early Childhood Program (which serves children ages 0–7 with speech-language-hearing impairments who need intensive treatment) and, most recently, an Oral Deaf Education Preschool Program.
More than bricks and mortar contribute to the success of BHSC. The dedication of highly skilled staff committed to continuous quality improvement of patient services (as well as their own continuing professional education), senior management leadership, and a strong governing board have all contributed.
The professions of speech-language pathology and audiology constantly evolve. The implementation of new research findings and the use of new technologies help BHSC continuously improve its services. When the technology for cochlear implants significantly advanced during the late 1990s, BHSC began educating staff and collaborating with local otolaryngologists to develop and implement a comprehensive program for local residents who were contemplating the surgical procedure. A cochlear implant advisory team was created and included physicians, audiologists, SLPs, educators, academics, and parents. They continue to meet on a regular basis to help facilitate the program.
The richly rewarding experience of being involved in this life-changing surgical procedure far exceeded our expectations, and BHSC currently follows approximately l25 patients who have received a cochlear implant. Very often, patients-and in some cases, staff-shed tears of joy during mapping sessions when patients “hear” their first audible sounds. It is an emotional moment that reinforces staff commitment to making a difference (see box above).
Other Success Factors
Additional factors that have contributed to our growth include:
  • Use of new technologies. BHSC has embraced new technological advances that have the potential to help our patients. For example, our center became one of the first providers in the country to successfully utilize a high-technology, computer-based approach to working with adolescents who demonstrate severe emotional and behavioral disorders with concomitant language learning impairments. It has been remarkable how the teenagers that are often very difficult to treat with traditional treatment are highly responsive and make significant progress utilizing computer-based programs.

  • Continuing professional education. The center also invests significant time and resources into staff continuing education (CE) programs. Several CE activities are scheduled each month at BHSC, both within and outside of regular work hours. In 2003, SLPs and audiologists could choose from courses offering more than 50 hours of ASHA-approved CE credit, including a workshop series that offered clinicians in the community as well as staff clinicians the latest information on clinical issues. Presentations emphasize hands-on workshops that focus on treatment. Practicing clinicians present the sessions, which are low on lecture and high on practical applications.

  • Strategic affiliations. BHSC continues to build strong relationships with health care and educational facilities, as well as local and national foundations and corporations.

Celebrating Milestones
In 2003 BHSC proudly celebrated its 50th Anniversary and the achievements of its “Vision Team” of senior managers that had implemented a creative new strategic plan. This leadership team meets every two weeks to ensure that the goals and objectives in its 2004–2006 strategic plan are achieved. While the concept of strategic planning is not unique, the team met in late 2002 to discuss the development of a dynamic new plan that would enhance the organization and its clients over the long term. After defining the 2003 action plan, they each took responsibility for parts of the action plan and shared the status of their initiatives every two weeks. Their individual and collective commitment to the plan brought our most successful year to date.
In 2003 the center:
  • Received a large national grant to open an Oral Deaf Education Program and became one of only eight Moog Curriculum Schools in the United States.

  • Opened its fourth location in the southern suburbs of Buffalo in collaboration with a large medical group.

  • Initiated a 14-part Continuing Clinical Competency Workshop Series.

  • Established the 1st Annual Golf Tournament to benefit BHSC’s “Listen for Life” Cochlear Implant Program.

  • Held a gala “Celebration of Sound” event to help celebrate the 50th anniversary and also benefit the Cochlear Implant Program. Former Miss America Heather Whitestone McCallum, a cochlear implant recipient, attended as a guest speaker.

Looking Ahead
As we embrace “The Age of Communication,” BHSC anticipates an increased community need for services. Demand for speech-language pathology and audiology services is expected to continue growing during the coming years as society places more emphasis on communication skills. With a state-of-the-art facility, the latest in technology, a highly skilled staff, and a full complement of quality services, BHSC is well positioned to address the communication needs in Western New York.
Strategic planning continues for 2004 and beyond. This year the center’s priorities include continued development of The Cochlear Implant Center of Excellence, new research initiatives in collaboration with community and academic partners, development of literacy programming for preschool and school-age children, and creation of a branding/marketing plan.
Looking back on my decision to take on the challenging position as president and chief executive officer of BHSC, I have no regrets. I would not trade this experience for anything and feel tremendous pride in the center’s continued successes-made possible by our very talented and dedicated staff who are “making a difference” every day for many people in the Western New York community.
Can there be any greater satisfaction?
“I Am in the Midst of a Miracle”

Karen Hornung, cochlear implant recipient, described in a letter to BHSC her experience of hearing her first sounds:

I know you will get a report from the audiologist. I wanted to give you a report from the heart. The past two weeks have been amazing. It’s like being served a feast of sound after only tasting bits and pieces for the past 12 years.

  • I can hear the microwave beep beep beeping
  • I can hear the phone ring loud and clear
  • I can hear the doorbell ringing
  • I can hear the redwing blackbird call
  • I can listen to the radio and hear words where there used to be just noise
  • I can hear and understand my husband reading to my daughter
  • I can hear and understand my best friend on the phone
  • I can hear my daughter whispering, “I love you,” as we say goodnight. I can even hear a sound like a chorus vocalizing.
  • I am told this is a sort of tinnitus, but it sounds like a chorus of angels to me.

I am in the midst of a miracle. Thank you.

Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center Historical Milestones

1953 Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center founded; hired one audiologist

1955 First speech-language pathologist hired

1960 Purchased first site, a converted Victorian home

1976 First satellite clinic established

1987 Preschool language development program initiated

1993 ASHA Continuing Education provider

1994 ASHA PSB accreditation

1995 Constructed 47,000 square foot speech and hearing facility

1998 Cochlear Implant Program initiated; acquired rural county satellite

1999 Suburban northtown satellite opened

2002 Distinguished Service Award from the New York State Speech-Language-Hearing Association

2004 Patient #90,000 receives services

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March 2004
Volume 9, Issue 4