By Alison Trinidad

Hearing loss among children is a major challenge for pediatricians and parents. According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, children who are hard of hearing often find it much more difficult to learn vocabulary, grammar and word order.

No single treatment is the answer, however. To offer patients and their families comprehensive clinical care backed by innovative research, Keck Medicine of USC recently opened the USC Center for Childhood Communication on the campus of John Tracy Clinic, 806 W. Adams Blvd., in Los Angeles. Pediatric audiology and speech pathology specialists began seeing patients on Oct. 1.

The new center provides audiology and speech language pathology services to children with hearing loss from birth to adulthood, including access to national clinical trials and state-of-the-art rehabilitative care. The center builds on the world-renowned clinical and scientific expertise of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC.

“Research and clinical innovation go hand in hand at the Keck School of Medicine,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, dean of the Keck School. “We are enthusiastic about the opening of this new center.”

The center is the result of the hard work and dedication of many departments university-wide, according to Coreen Rodgers, MBA, CPA, chief operating officer of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Coordination for the logistics of starting things up in just 10 days’ time has been a massive task between legal, USC Care, marketing, the audiologists and USC real estate,” she said. “We wanted to provide continuity of care for these children, setting up a location where audiologists could see patients and have access to both clinical and research resources targeted for a pediatric population.”

Fully staffed by USC faculty, the center is able to test the degree and type of hearing loss a child may have; fit assistive devices such as hearing aids, bone conduction devices and cochlear implants; and assess listening and communication skill development. It also will participate in various National Institutes of Health-funded research projects that focus on hearing and speech development, in hopes of developing innovative technologies and procedures for people with profound hearing loss.

“With the right care, young children with hearing loss can achieve developmental, academic and social outcomes commensurate with their hearing peers,” said John K. Niparko, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. “Our center fills a regional gap, integrating research, clinical services and education to serve families with special needs.”

The center is located on the first floor of John Tracy Clinic (JTC), which was founded in 1943 and is a leading diagnostic and education center for young children with hearing loss in the world. John Tracy Clinic’s integrated services include pediatric audiology, community hearing screening, parent-infant programming, an auditory-verbal preschool, counseling and child development, parent distance education, and an accredited master’s degree and credential program.

“Without the John Tracy Clinic, we could never have gotten up and running so quickly,” said Rodgers. “We’ve already seen patients at the JTC facilities, and we are now building a full audiology clinic on-site with four hearing booths, family therapy rooms and a second floor with offices for research facilities and staff, all due to open Jan. 1, 2014.”

“We are pleased to have our two remarkable institutions under one roof,” added Gaston Kent, president and CEO of John Tracy Clinic. “Our proximity will be a tremendous asset to children with hearing loss and we look forward to a long and collaborative relationship.”

The USC Center for Childhood Communication is the latest addition to the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, which recently recruited four physicians specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders that affect hearing, balance, speech, swallowing, sleep and facial function. The department is home to preeminent surgeons who have unparalleled experience in cochlear implantation — Niparko and Rick A. Friedman, MD, PhD, together have performed nearly 2,000 cochlear implants — including advanced surgical techniques and multidisciplinary approaches to rehabilitation.

“Keck Medicine of USC is growing its network and expanding its reach to meet the needs of the community at large,” said Tom Jackiewicz, MPH, senior vice president and CEO of USC Health. “We are pleased to have these hearing and speech specialists join the Trojan Family. Their expertise and experience in clinical care and research will be invaluable in building a first-class center for patients with hearing loss.”