How to leverage new health center funds in 2014

Federal funds for community health center (CHC) expansion are coming. To take advantage of them, the AOA urges members to contact local CHCs now and make the case for investing in eye care.

This announcement is huge, in that it supports and is reflective of our association’s hard-fought efforts.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 provides a $700 million boost over last year's budget to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). This includes $300 million in Affordable Care Act funds for health center expansion grants.

In a Jan. 22 teleconference, Jim Macrae, HRSA's associate administrator for primary health care, said the new funds would be made available for vision services, along with other services such as dental, pharmacy, and behavioral and mental health.

"This announcement is huge, in that it supports and is reflective of our association's hard-fought efforts," says Lillian Thorp Kalaczinski, O.D., chair of the AOA Health Center Committee. The AOA has worked with federal health officials to include vision care in expanded services funding, she says.

No official date is set, but ODs should be on the lookout for a funding announcement soon.

Prepare now for opportunities

CHC leadership will assess which services to expand with additional funds, says Michael Duenas, O.D., the AOA's chief public health officer. With all of these competing factors, ODs need to bring the message to health centers that vision care is important—and work with them to assist in expansion efforts.

Work to identify CHC leaders and contact them, Dr. Duenas advises. The AOA offers resources for doing so, including sample business models that can be tailored to specific CHCs. 

Health center optometry is a growing field, but many health centers still lack comprehensive eye care, according to an article in Community Forum, the journal of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).

People seeking care at CHCs often suffer from untreated eye and vision problems. "Adding eye and vision care to the arsenal of primary care services already available in health centers has the potential to prevent millions of Americans of all ages from losing their vision," the article states.

Pediatric care offers starting point

The forthcoming HRSA grants could be used to assist children seeking care in CHCs, Dr. Duenas says. At least seven million children get treatment in these facilities, but they don't always receive essential vision care.

"Healthy vision has direct links to optimal student performance, socialization and favorable behavioral and mental health outcomes," he says.

In the past, federal grant money has been crucial for expanding eye care services for children. In 2012, the Oyler School in Cincinnati opened OneSight Vision Center, the first self-sustaining vision model that operates within an existing school-based health center. A combination of federal and private funds—including $125,000 in stimulus money from HRSA—fueled this effort, says Teresa Gossard, O.D., part of Oyler's executive project team.

In its first school year, OneSight saw more than 1,200 children, most of whom are eligible for Medicaid. "With year two we're looking to almost double that projection to almost 2,200," Dr. Gossard says.

February 21, 2014

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