PITTSFIELD — No time is a good time to land in the hospital because of a broken hip.
During a pandemic, it's probably the worst time to have ongoing problems with your balance, hearing and other maladies of the inner ear, all of which could lead to a fall and hospitalization.
Since 2017, Greylock Audiology and FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center has been helping the Berkshire seniors and others, using cutting-edge diagnostics and advanced physical therapy techniques to improve quality of life, says owner Andrew Puttick, a doctor of audiology.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, Greylock Audiology has shifted gears from a traditional medical office to one with virtual services; in-person audiology appointments were impossible during the statewide shutdown, and the office is in the final stages of reopening, in addition to offering physical therapy remotely via TeleHealth Services. Based on Gov. Charlie Baker's guidance, Puttick is optimistic that In-person appointments for physical therapy will resume in a couple more weeks.
In the meantime, Greylock Audiology is performing curbside hearing aid repairs and is allowing urgent cases into the office, provided patients are masked and go through prescreening tests for temperature and oxygen-level as they enter the building.
Depending on which brand of hearing aid you own, Puttick says there are some options for remote care, in which he can connect to your hearing aid remotely via his computer and your smartphone, and can fine tune and make device adjustments for customers accordingly.
"I'm at the office, and they are safely at home," says Puttick.
For those customers who do want to visit the office at 510 North St., the office waiting room has been rearranged to maintain recommended social distancing standards and is being sanitized and disinfected throughout the day to minimize visitor and employee risk.
Employees are masked and gloved, and visits are by appointment only and are staggered, so there's never two people in the waiting room at a time. Some chairs have been removed in the waiting room, too.
"We're going to be screening our staff and our patients before they come in," says Puttick. If staff or patients feel sick, they're asked to not come in, and to reschedule.
Greylock Audiology is also shipping hearing aid supplies to try to minimize the traffic through the front door.
Puttick is no stranger to Berkshire County, as prior to launching Greylock Audiology, he worked for 14 years with an ear, nose and throat doctor — Dr. John Burton — until he retired.
Venturing out on his own, Puttick wanted to distinguish his then-new office from other audiology practices in the area. That's when he found FYZICAL, a vertigo and balance treatment, and fall prevention program, as falls are a major problem with the elderly population in the Berkshires.
"A lot of patients experiencing vertigo or general imbalance were being referred to ear, nose and throat doctors, and we really didn't have anywhere in the Berkshires to refer them for appropriate treatment. So when FYZICAL was marketing what they do for audiologists, I researched it, went to a seminar, and realized they're exactly what the Berkshires needed," says Puttick.
About three months later, Puttick bought into the FYZICAL program and recruited Trevor Marcotte, a doctor of physical therapy, to master the program and run it.
Having Marcotte in the office is one of the offerings that sets Greylock Audiology services apart from cookie-cutter hearing aid chains and even some larger audiology or ear, nose and throat practices.
"It's a more thorough vestibular (inner ear and balance) evaluation than you would typically get from a standard physical therapist or an orthopedic physical therapist," says Puttick.
Problems with the inner ear, whether from age or injury, can lead to falls, and Greylock Audiology's physical therapy program focuses on balance and fall prevention.
"With falls, individuals can suffer head injuries, broken hips, and other sometimes serious injuries, and if we're not careful, those injuries can lead to death," says Puttick.
With older folks, musculoskeletal balance impairment goes hand-in-hand with the natural aging process. That's one of the reasons why FYZICAL came to be; it's founder, who was going to physical therapy, saw the significant need for fall prevention.
"Falls are costing Medicare billions of dollars a year. Treat it before it happens; don't treat the fall after with physical therapy. Let's try to prevent the hip replacement from the get-go by keeping people's balance stronger, longer," says Puttick.
Greylock Audiology helps people of all ages who struggle with hearing or tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) or who have symptoms such as vertigo, which causes a spinning or a whirling sensation and is often accompanied by nausea.
"We've become known as the go-to place for vertigo," he notes.
The practice also offers laser therapy for pain management, which Puttick says promotes healing at a cellular level and gets deeper into tissue than ultrasound. For patients with peripheral neuropathy, laser therapy helps restore feeling in the lower extremities, he says. Everybody responds differently to it, but it's been overwhelmingly successful, Puttick says.
Other Greylock Audiology services include orthopedic physical therapy, custom hearing protection, treatment for tinnitus and hearing testing.
For those customers seeking hearing aids, the costs range from $1,000 to $2,750 per earpiece; people don't get two if they only need one, notes Puttick. The difference in price relates to the quality of sound, components and technology, with the more expensive models working better in noisy environments. All products are digital, says Puttick.
No matter the ailment of the ear, Puttick and his team of about eight part- and full-time staffers are there to offer aid to Berkshire residents who need it.
"We're here to help people who want to hear better, when they realize it's a problem affecting their quality of life," says Puttick.