When you think of joining the family business, images of ice cream stands, pizza restaurants and clothing stores may come to mind. But for Kimballi Andreozzi-Startz, following in her father’s footsteps was a bit out of the ordinary.
On Saturdays, after school and school vacations, Andreozzi-Startz worked alongside her dad administering hearing tests and fitting patients for hearing aids at one of seven offices in Rhode Island.
“He was my mentor. He taught me everything,” says the Stonington resident. “I did everything from bookkeeping to reception, but I loved testing and changing people’s lives.
“He always treated patients like family. I loved going to work with my dad,” she adds. “We had a big family, so one-on-one time with a parent was great.”
Andreozzi-Startz has continued her family tradition. Last November, with her husband, Ken Startz, she opened Community Hearing Aids of Connecticut, a testing and hearing aid dispensing practice in Groton.
She and her husband have a combined 40 years in the hearing aid industry. Last summer, while traveling and working long hours for another company, they both decided it was time for a change. They considered opening a franchise in another field, but finally decided that the hearing field “is what we do best.”
“When people walk through the door, they are experiencing something very unique and when they leave, they feel good,” she says. “If you have to wear hearing aids, there’s never been a better time. People are living longer, they’re healthier and hearing aids can improve the quality of people’s lives.”
Along with the professional benefit, working closer to home has enabled her to spend more time with her extended family, and enjoy her fairly recent roles. In 2001 she married Ken and became stepmother to his son, Todd, and “Kimmie Kim” to Todd’s children.
“It’s so cliché, but I feel very protected and loved by him. I have this maternal feeling for him and it’s a great feeling,” she says.
If she hadn’t fit Ken for hearing aids at her former company 12 years ago, it all might not have been. Shortly after their first meeting, Ken began working with her a few days a week.
“I’m used to working with family,” she says. “I have four brothers and one sister and we all worked for dad. There was no choice; it’s just what we did. And that’s how many of us found our paths.”
Working closely with her father and siblings is what helped Andreozzi-Startz fine-tune the process she uses to evaluate clients.
The first step is a 90-minute initial meeting. Along with reviewing a health form, Andreozzi-Startz conducts an interview that includes a series of questions to determine how a loss of hearing has affected the client.
A Video-Otoscopy of the ear canal and tympanic membrane is done to ensure there are no obstructions blocking sound access to the ear drum. If the canal is not blocked, the client sits in a sound-proof booth, similar to a vocal booth in a music studio, for a comprehensive hearing evaluation.
Once complete, the results are displayed on a wide-screen, high-definition TV. Andreozzi-Startz uses a software program that gives clients a 2D view of their hearing level depicted on a chart.
The “hearing loss simulation” shows how the patient reacted to typical sounds in their everyday life – wind rustling the leaves in a tree, a cell phone ringing, a lawn mower, conversation in a crowd, and traffic.
The 2D program also gives spouses and children a clear picture of what their relative is missing out on.
“We can demonstrate to the patient’s family what their life is like,” she explains. “When you lose your hearing, this visual (depiction) helps.”
Depending on the level of hearing loss, some clients can have a device fitted and programmed and leave with it the same day. The couple uses Audibel hearing aids, and is the exclusive provider in the area. For custom Audibel hearing aids, soft impressions are taken of the ear canal. The hearing aids are then custom built and ready to be dispensed within seven days.
Andreozzi-Startz acknowledges that, for years, there was a stigma attached to wearing hearing aids, which forced many people in need to go without treatment.
“It was similar to eyeglasses. People made fun of you. They often thought hearing aids represented old age. People who needed them were misconceived as stupid,” she explains. “(And) it’s frustrating for people who are on the other side. People with hearing loss tend to become talkers and not good listeners.”
To help make the hearing world more accessible, the practitioner also makes house calls. When she first started working with her dad, half of her time was spent in the field. It’s not easy, since she has to tote all of her equipment with her, but worth it.
“All I need is for it to be quiet enough … and some electricity,” she jokes.
Community Hearing Aids of Connecticut
Lighthouse Square Plaza
441 Long Hill Road, Groton