Maxine Armstrong is an audiologist and co-owner of the Quinte Hearing Centre clinics in Belleville and Picton. Dan Cassibo, a licensed hearing instrument specialist, is her business partner and co-owner.
Having grown their Belleville business for five years, Maxine and Dan saw a need for their services in neighbouring Prince Edward County. “We were ready to expand and there was clearly demand in The County,” says Maxine. “We wanted good walk-by and drive-by traffic like we have in Belleville.” A Main Street location was a must. They were happy to look in Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton, but after several months of searching they chose 149 Main Street, Picton. “It was the only suitable building available,” says Maxine candidly. “But it turned out to be a terrific choice. People come from all over The County to access services in Picton and our neighbours are terrific.” She laughs, “We chose well, but it was as much luck as planning.”
Tom McEvoy at Century 21 helped them through the process of buying commercial. “It’s more complex than buying a house,” says Dan, “and buying bricks and mortar is very different to choosing a place to rent. You’re investing a lot, you own the place as well as running your business and I believe it makes you feel more invested in the community. What happens on Main Street affects us, we’re all in it together.”
Before opening in October 2019, they hired Keylin Haar as office manager and trained her to compete administrative duties as well as clean and check hearing aids. She was trained by the administrator in Belleville, Samantha Drumm. Samantha and Keylin are both critical parts of the team. When asked if she’s a County girl, Kelyin says, “Nope, I’m from Belleville, so I actually commute to Prince Edward County for work.” They found Keylin through The County’s local Career Edge recruitment service, who Maxine says were great to work with. “They made it very easy, and Anne Snyder stopped in to visit after we’d hired Keylin, just to see how we were doing. That’s so County! Anne and I have kids the same age, so we had a lot to talk about. Despite the stress of expanding and stepping into the unknown, the people we worked with made it a pleasant experience.”
WHAT QHC OFFERS
Quinte Hearing Centre’s main service is hearing testing, but there’s more. “We provide hearing aids of all shapes, sizes and technologies, in both battery and rechargeable options. We offer both hearing counseling and tinnitus counseling, as well as assistive listening devices. Finally, we offer ear cleaning under a microscope, which definitely sets us apart,” says Maxine. Called suction or mechanical removal, their ear cleaning is a specialist procedure done under a microscope, and it is not normally seen in a private clinics. “It requires specific, specialist training,” says Dan. “So it’s more commonly done in a hospital or specialist setting, but that is Maxine’s background.” Having spent 10 years as an audiologist at Toronto General Hospital working with microscopes, Maxine is highly qualified and trained Dan in the procedure. “I’ve seen how pleased people are with the result,” says Dan. “It’s very controlled and more comfortable for patients.”
QHC also offers the advanced, implantable hearing aid called The Lyric. It doesn’t have a battery and doesn’t need to be taken in and out, but is fitted into the ear, very close to the eardrum, again under a microscope, where it can stay up to three months while you just get on with your life. They are the only clinic in the entire Prince Edward and Quinte region offering this type of device.
“We offer hearing aid counseling, too,” says Maxine. “Patients can bring in hearing aids that they purchased somewhere else, and we’ll service them at no charge.” Keylin has been trained to clean and service hearing aids, to put in new batteries and give them a listening check. “We’re here to help people,” says Maxine simply. “To answer questions. People have all kinds of different needs, for instance hunters might need custom ear plugs and specific noise protection. We’re here to educate and give advice.”
Tinnitus, often called ringing in the ears, is broadly defined as any sound you hear in your head that is not coming from an external source, and it can be challenging to live with. “The noise comes from inside the brain, so you can’t just cancel it out like external noise,” explains Dan. “We use special tones or white noise to mask the tinnitus, and we provide counseling and follow up treatment to help patients cope with the condition.”
WHY OFFER FREE SERVICES?
“We are not subsidized by the government,” says Maxine. “Audiology was delisted by the Ontario government in 2001, so we can’t bill OHIP for any of our services. But we believe it’s very important to have your hearing tested at any age, particularly over 60.” She believes facing a hefty fee can be a barrier to someone getting their hearing checked, one more excuse to not take action. So they offer free tests and no charge counseling. “We’re happy to sit down and talk to patients about their hearing test results. If someone is thinking about getting a hearing aid but has no clue what’s involved, Maxine and Dan’s free advice can help. “We encourage people to come in and talk about their options,” says Maxine.
Opened in October, the Picton business has been busy from the start. “We’re only the second clinic to exist in the County, and the first that is audiologist-owned and is therefore highly regulated healthcare,” says Maxine. It’s growing faster than anticipated, faster than their Belleville practice, and she believes that shows The County can accommodate, and would welcome, more professional healthcare services, particularly in fields where local specialists are nearing retirement.
MAXINE AND DAN
Although they’re only business partners, Quinte Hearing Centre is a family business. Dan and Maxine have been friends for over 12 years, with close family connections. They both grew up in Belleville and spent time in The County as kids. Now they bring their own children to Sandbanks in summer, and often partake in what the County has to offer.
“Dan and I have known each other a long time. He’s like my brother and there’s a lot of trust. When I had the idea for this business, I asked Dan to change his life, to train as a hearing instrument specialist and do this crazy thing with me.”
When she asked him to join her in business, Dan had two young children and a full-time job at HAI Precision Waterjets in Trenton. “I programmed AutoCad,” he says. “Nothing whatsoever to do with ears!” But he took the challenge, took online university courses and traveled regularly to Toronto for hands-on experience, then, after graduating in 2016, put in 1,000 clinic hours to earn his license. “Life was busy,” he says wryly. “I negotiated to work longer hours during my day job which freed up days for me to travel to Toronto to complete my training.”
For her part, Maxine was pregnant with her first child when they opened Quinte Hearing Centre in Belleville. “We were a bit crazy but totally determined, and we’ve made it work,” she says. Equal partners from the start, Maxine was Dan’s supervisor, trainer and mentor, but she swears she could not have done it without him. Having previously completed a three-year business administration program at Loyalist College, Dan took care of business until he was fully licensed, while Maxine took care of the patients.
“Our relationship is important,” says Maxine. “You have to really trust someone when you’re risking everything. We’ve invested a lot and we’re in it for the long run. We’re very straight with each other and we have a very functional relationship.” Dan can’t resist breaking in. “Wait a minute! Maxine has good ideas, great ideas, which is good. We wouldn’t be here if she didn’t. But she does sometimes float 50 feet above the ground. I occasionally have to grab her shoelaces and pull her back to earth.” Maxine nods solemnly. “He’s very grounded and doesn’t complain when I text him at 4 a.m. with an idea. He doesn’t answer! But he doesn’t complain.”
THE COUNTY COMPARED TO THE CITY
For 10 years Maxine worked as an audiologist in Canada’s largest dizziness centre at Toronto General Hospital, working with patients from all over the country. “There was no typical patient, we were diagnosing many different problems,” she says. “Dizziness is about all they had in common. In Belleville and Picton, the hearing problems we encounter are generally more straightforward.” That’s one difference. Another is the strong sense of community they feel in The County. “It’s that salt-of-the-earth thing,” she says. “People like to talk and make connections. Do you know Joe? He lives down the road from us. It’s great. Also we rarely get a no-show here. If someone misses an appointment they have a good reason. Not always the case in the city. Maybe it’s a small town thing but people are more respectful of your time.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
Maxine left Belleville for Toronto at the age of 19 and enjoyed her time in the city. “I liked having lots of restaurants nearby, lots of friends,” she says. “I wondered if we’d find it a little sleepy here, particularly as I was dragging my husband back home with me,” she laughs. Quite the contrary. Her husband says it’s the best move they ever made. “He says our lives improved dramatically,” she says contentedly. “I was having kids, and the pace and quality of life felt better, wait times at the hospital were better, and, of course, house prices were great. We’ve not been bored since we arrived.” Maxine and Dan both live in Belleville but find Picton’s downtown core feels busier. “There is more walking traffic,” he says. “It’s a walking town. I only lived one year in Toronto but I’d say if people are hesitant to move to The County because they think it has less to offer, they’d be pleasantly surprised.” Maxine finishes with a flourish and a laugh. “I know something you get here that you don’t get in the city, fresh smells! I can stand in the middle of Picton, even with traffic, and if it starts to rain it smells like rain,” so refreshing!
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.