Instrumental optometric scope pioneer, SUNY founder dies

Instrumental optometric scope pioneer, SUNY founder dies

Alden Norman Haffner, O.D., Ph.D. with AOA President-elect Andrea P. Thau, O.D.

Alden Norman Haffner, O.D., Ph.D.

It is with great sadness that AOA notes the passing of Alden Norman Haffner, O.D., Ph.D., on June 22, 2016. An indefatigable advocate for the profession, Dr. Haffner's leadership within the academic and public health communities was critical to advancing the practice of optometry. Dr. Haffner was 87.

A resident of New York City, Dr. Haffner graduated with his Doctor of Optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) in 1952, eventually receiving an MPA and Ph.D. from New York University. He constructed and taught the first formal, semester-long course in public health in academic optometry at PCO in 1966, before becoming the founding president of the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry in 1971. He would eventually take a role as vice chancellor of health sciences at SUNY, but returned as the college's president in 1988, serving in that faculty until his retirement in 2005.

Dr. Haffner, an Army veteran, championed a number of public health issues across his career and served extensively on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) top-level health care advisory panel, the VA Special Medical Advisory Group (SMAG)

Appointed to the panel by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Dr. Haffner helped spur important initiatives to advance health care for veterans, including an effort to expand access to eye and vision care in the VA system. As a panel member, Dr. Haffner recommended the VA conduct a comprehensive inventory of its eye care resources that would ultimately document unacceptable waiting times and deficiencies in staffing levels at VA clinics. His subsequent report led to improved optometry staffing and increased numbers of optometry residency positions at VA medical centers. Dr. Haffner served on the VA SMAG for 25 years—a tenure that AOA News noted in 2012 was longer than anyone in the panel's history at that time.

Notably, Dr. Haffner was credited as a catalyst for change in the profession. In 1968, Dr. Haffner convened a group of nearly two dozen optometric educators and researchers at La Guardia airport in New York to discuss the imbalance between optometrists' scope of responsibility and educational requirements. Historically a drugless profession, optometry was put on a path toward the medical model with an agreed-upon need for scope expansion through bolstered academic curriculum and heightened state and federal advocacy.

A former president of the New York State Optometric Association who served on numerous AOA committees, Dr. Haffner was awarded the AOA Distinguished Service Award, the Eminent Service Award from the American Academy of Optometry and inducted into the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2000.

AOA President-elect Andrea P. Thau, O.D., says the profession has lost a giant: "He was a visionary who helped advance our profession into the diagnosis and treatment of disease, won the right for optometrists to be recognized as commissioned officers and created residences for optometry. His vision created a lasting imprint on our profession across the nation. He was my mentor, colleague, friend and inspiration, and he will be greatly missed."

AOA offers its sincerest condolences to the family of Dr. Haffner, as well as to his colleagues in New York.

Read more about Dr. Haffner's celebrated career from SUNY.

June 23, 2016

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