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Hearing Aid 911 founder James Richwine in front of his mobile hearing clinic. (Hearing Aid 911/BizWest / Courtesy photo)
Hearing Aid 911 founder James Richwine in front of his mobile hearing clinic. (Hearing Aid 911/BizWest / Courtesy photo)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Boulderites with hearing problems have been faced with a conundrum: Do they remain in their homes and forgo hearing tests and hearing aid repairs? Or do they risk contracting the virus by venturing out for help with their audiological needs?

James Richwine is trying to eliminate this choice with his newly-established Hearing Aid 911 LLC, a mobile hearing aid testing clinic and rental and repair service that operates out of a retrofitted ambulance.

“Audiology, traditionally, is a really high-touch environment,” he said. “We require patients to come into a small room and get their ears tested in a little sound booth with air circulating and recirculating.”

Assisted-living facilities and medical clinics can schedule a time for Richwine to pull into the parking lot with his souped-up ambulance and provide socially-distanced hearing aid services to residents.

The ambulance is equipped with a tablet-based hearing test and tools that allow him to make adjustments and repairs to hearing aids for patients around the Boulder County area. The clinic first hit the streets in early November with the goal of “doing a better job, finding, treating and preventing hearing loss,” Richwine said.

Richwine, an Arizona native and former private investigator who moved from rural Montana to Boulder this year to pursue his Hearing Aid 911 startup, has been interested in hearing issues most of his life.

“My mother had pretty severe hearing loss and as a kid I didn’t always appreciate how much of a struggle that was for her,” Richwine told BizWest.

His mom’s hearing loss was a result of a gun being fired too close to her head during a target practice session.

In the 1980s, “she tried hearing aids for the first time, but had a horrible experience with them,” said Richwine, who has since made it his mission to make the experience easier and more accessible.

“This is an impact that I can have and see direct results from,” he said.

With encouragement for his brother-in-law, an audiologist in Montana, Richwine, whose background also includes a stint as a mortgage broker, became a licensed hearing aid specialist at the brother-in-law’s practice about five years ago.

Richwine knew he wanted to strike it out on his own, but he wasn’t quite sure where.

Boulder was a place where he and his family stopped regularly on road trips between Arizona and Montana.

“We’d grown to love it — the art, the culture, the tech-centric ingenuity,” he said.

If he was going to launch a new business, why not do it in one of the Western United States’ top startup hubs? Richwine thought.

The move to Boulder coincided with the emergence of the pandemic, which increased the need for mobile hearing aid services because so many of those who suffer from hearing loss were quarantined in their homes and assisted-living facilities.

The virus “gave me the catalyst for pushing forward my idea that I’d been sitting on for a few years,” Richwine said.

As of now, Hearing Aid 911 is a one-man operation, but Richwine said he hopes to expand the business with additional mobile clinics. The challenge, he said, is finding audiology professionals to staff the converted ambulances.

“I’m keeping my eyes open for people with the right certifications and training and the gumption to drive around in an ambulance,” he said. “It’s really a whole new model.”

© 2020 BizWest Media LLC

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