State Newborn Hearing Screening Initiative a Success

In First Three Months, Newborn Screening Program Tests Nearly 85% of Babies Born in New York Hospitals for Hearing Loss

Albany, May 23, 2002 – New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., announced today that since the State's newborn hearing screening program became mandatory in October, 2001, nearly 85 percent of infants born in hospitals and birthing centers in New York have been tested for hearing loss–and that percentage is expected to rise even higher as health facilities continue to fully implement State requirements.

Governor George E. Pataki said, "This remarkable result in so short a time demonstrates that our newborn hearing screening program is working exactly as we had hoped, ensuring that infants who are born with hearing problems are identified promptly so that appropriate interventions can begin without delay. The vast majority of hospitals and birthing centers across New York were fully complying with newborn hearing screening regulations less than three months into the program."

The screening data released today were submitted to the State Health Department by 148 maternity hospitals and birthing centers throughout New York State. That number represents 92.5 percent of the 160 hospitals and birthing centers that are required by New York State Public Health Law to provide hearing screening to newborns, and report results to the Commissioner of Health.

Between the program's start date of October 20, 2001 and December 31, 2001, a total of 36,231 out of 42,999 newborns (84.3 percent) were screened for hearing loss. These include both infants who received an inpatient screening, and babies delivered at smaller hospitals who were referred for an outpatient hearing screening. Of the babies screened, 184 (.5 percent) were reported to have a confirmed hearing loss based on a follow-up evaluation.

"Thanks to the success of this program, each one of the babies who were identified as hard of hearing or deaf will have an opportunity for a better life," Dr. Novello said. "The preliminary data from New York hospitals shows that nearly 85 percent of newborns are being screened for hearing deficiencies. This rate is outstanding and puts New York near the top nationally in newborn hearing screening rates.

"This is yet another example of Governor Pataki's commitment to New York's children because by testing these newborns and catching any problems early, they have a better chance of getting the early intervention services they need and deserve."

"I'm delighted that the State of New York under Governor Pataki's leadership has implemented strategies to provide hearing screening and appropriate intervention to all infants born statewide," said Congressman James T. Walsh (NY-25). "When I first began my efforts in Washington in 1989 to address this issue, only 3 percent of all babies nationwide were being screened. I'm glad that today, less than a year into the program, nearly 85 percent of all New York newborns are being screened."

Permanent sensorineural hearing loss is found in approximately two-to-four of every 1,000 newborns. About 30 percent of babies born with hearing loss have no signs of a potential problem, such as serious illness or family history of deafness. Universal newborn hearing screening is important to identify hearing loss as early as possible and ensure that parents and babies have access to early services to promote language development and normal learning.

The screening data were provided to the Health Department as a result of legislation signed by the Governor authorizing the Commissioner of Health to establish a program to ensure all New York State newborns are screened for hearing loss. The law requires hospital administrators either to implement their own newborn hearing screening programs or provide newborns with a referral for hearing screening once they leave the hospital.

Regulations covering newborn hearing screening were formulated with the assistance of an expert panel, including pediatricians, audiologists, parents, and hospital representatives. They require most hospitals in the State to provide an inpatient hospital screening and have mechanisms in place to follow-up with newborns who need further testing. Hospitals with an average of less than 400 births a year have the option to provide parents with a prescription to have their babies screened in the community following discharge from the hospital. Only six hospitals have decided to pursue this option.

To ensure the continued success of the newborn hearing program, the State Health Department has:

  • Provided training to hospitals to provide information on the importance of newborn screening, screening technologies and equipment, and the applicable requirements;
  • Developed educational brochures and supplied them to hospitals and birthing centers to inform parents about newborn hearing screening, early intervention services available for children with a hearing loss, and how to watch for signs of hearing loss that may occur later in childhood even when a baby's hearing is normal at birth; and
  • Continued to work with an expert panel to develop evidenced-based clinical practice guidelines on how to identify screening loss and the best interventions for children with hearing loss. These guidelines are under review and are expected to be issued later this year.

5/23/02–52 OPA