ODs: Leverage new federal funds for eye care in community health centers
The AOA is encouraging members to promote eye and vision care at community health centers (CHCs) now that new federal grants fought for and won by the AOA are available to expand these types of services.
"This funding can be leveraged to establish optometry service."
On June 3, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the availability of up to $300 million in new funds to help existing centers expand hours, hire more providers and establish additional services, including oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy and vision services.
The funds are part of the fiscal year 2014 Health Center Expanded Services grant program, originally secured by the AOA as part of the Affordable Care Act. The program was ultimately funded through the omnibus spending bill signed into law earlier this year at the urging of the AOA and other groups.
Historically, CHCs have lacked primary eye and vision care services, with only 18 percent of centers providing in-house optometric services. The inclusion of vision services in this grant program signals a new level of recognition by the federal government of Optometry's key role in primary care.
An opportunity to expand eye care
The new funds mean CHCs now have additional tools to expand or add new primary eye and vision care services that ODs provide. Existing ophthalmology services may also be eligible for expansion, but a special waiver is required to add new ophthalmology services.
Lillian Kalaczinski, O.D., who chairs the AOA's Health Center Committee, says this is an opportune time for ODs to contact local CHCs and offer their assistance and expertise in developing on-site vision services at these facilities.
"New vision service planning materials, developed exclusively by the AOA Health Center Committee, are tailored to fit the allocation of 2014 supplemental funding that the typical health center will receive for service expansion," Dr. Kalaczinski says.
The start-up dollars for vision care under these funds aren't that significant: averaging just about $150,000 per health center. But according to Dr. Kalaczinski, "This funding can be leveraged to establish optometry service, staffed by a local optometrist that can rapidly become self-sustaining."
AOA members are urged to:
- Find health centers in their area,
- Read more about the Fiscal Year 2014 Health Center Expanded Services (ES) grant program, and
- View AOA's Community Health Centers resources, including the AOA Health Center vision service planning materials.
- Read more about community health centers in the April 2014 issue of AOA Focus on page 36.