05/07/2013 05:59 EDT | Updated 07/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Rules for hearing-aid sales eyed in Saskatchewan amid public safety concerns

REGINA - A certified hearing-aid practitioner says people, especially seniors, are at risk because of poor education requirements for those who sell hearing aids in Saskatchewan.

"It's scary because basically what this is leading up to is a situation where you have people that are running around unqualified in a field that is necessary to have educational standards, especially when you're dealing with such a vulnerable sector that really does not, in a lot of cases, speak up as loud as they what should," said Ron Schick.

"That's a grave concern."

Schick says he quit "in a form of protest" about five months because he was seeing "horrific" things.

In one case, Schick says a woman brought her elderly father in to get a second opinion about a hearing aid because the man's ear hurt. Schick says a hearing aid salesperson told her father that the hearing aid was too tight and they "ground it down and put it back it in."

"When I looked in (his eardrum), I found a severe middle ear infection. The eardrum was already perforated with blood and pus on the outside," said Schick.

Schick says the current rules allow someone to sell hearing aids in Saskatchewan if they complete about 160 hours of supervision at a hearing-aid business and pass an open book exam.

But he says other provinces require at minimum a two-year hearing-aid practitioner diploma.

Marlo Dunlop, past-president of the Saskatchewan Hearing Instrument Practitioners Society, takes issue with the comments.

Dunlop says people who sell hearing aids in Saskatchewan are covered by the Hearing Aid Sales and Services Act and, working under 2006 regulations, have to complete 840 hours of supervision and pass an exam.

"Where we take a little bit of offence is that the Ministry of Health regulates us quite strongly, in fact they do annual inspections, they inspect our equipment, they do file audits, they can do drop-in inspections, they have a complaint mechanism," said Dunlop, who has been with the society for 14 years.

Dunlop also says Schick has not filed any complaints with the society and if something was wrong, it should have been reported.

Draft regulations introduced two years ago, but never brought into force, would update the 2006 regulations.

"What we say as an organization is, we believe that new people coming into the industry should, as a minimum standard, have a two-year diploma," said Dunlop.

"But the two-year diploma courses that are offered, and we have much research on this, they're an introductory course and so when they come out of that course we still want to see those people go under a direct supervision role.

"If there's a person that's practicing now in the industry and they're not meeting the standards that the Ministry of Health put forward, then the Ministry of Health needs to deal with those people individually. The Ministry of Health can pull licenses, they can restrict duties, they can remove people from the industry and if there's people that they know that are not meeting the standard, then we encourage them 100 per cent to take the appropriate action."

The issue came up in the legislature Tuesday when the Opposition NDP questioned why draft regulations were introduced two years ago, but still haven't been implemented.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said regulations are coming this summer for hearing-aid sales, but education requirements haven't been worked out yet.

Duncan said there's "a wide gap" in what those in the industry want to see in the regulations. Part of the problem is deciding what education rules should be in place for those already selling hearing aids.

"At this point we haven't settled on a compromise," said Duncan.

"I think that's what's taken the time to get to this point is what do you do with the individuals that don't have the minimum two years of education. There are many people that are practising in this field that wouldn't have that educational background."

"I would be leaning towards ensuring that, first of all, new people entering the field have the minimum two years and that existing individuals that are in the field would at least, at a minimum, be able to challenge the (exams)," he added.

The diploma program is not offered in Saskatchewan. Duncan is trying to find out if people would be able to take the tests in other provinces.

Schick says what businesses want shouldn't hold up rules that will protect the public.

"My point in the matter is in the meantime, you have 350,000 to 400,000 seniors that basically may be looked after by someone that would not be qualified to do that in any other province," said Schick.