Healthy Eyes Healthy Children grants program makes eye health and vision care a tradition
As traditions go, Mamie Chan, O.D., has a healthy view of them. In 2018, Dr. Chan spent much of her time working toward making eye health and vision care a new tradition among underserved families in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Dr. Chan, a second-generation doctor of optometry following in the footsteps of her father Tony Chan, O.D., was project director of My First Eye Exam. The project was one of 14 funded by a grant from the Healthy Eyes Healthy Children Community (HEHC) Grants Program, sponsored by Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation.
The project was a local partnership between the New Mexico Optometric Association and the Explora science center in Albuquerque. Together, they outfitted a semi-mobile cart with a rotating arm to hold a phoropter and drawers for smaller instruments. It debuted in May at the New Mexico Science Fiesta, which attracted 2,500 visitors—including 1,075 children—for the weeklong event. The cart was staffed by local doctors of optometry who volunteered their time.
"We loved this project because it introduced kids and adults to the components of a comprehensive eye exam, so they will feel more comfortable seeking eye care," Dr. Chan says. "It also allowed the kids and adults to see the kids going into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or health professions in the future."
Making a difference
For the 2017-2018 grant cycle, HEHC grants supported community projects in 11 states, including New Mexico, and provided $65,250 in grants. Funded by the Essilor Vision Foundation, the program benefited an estimated 22,500 people. Besides funding the grants, the Essilor Vision Foundation provides in-kind lens and lab support.
According to its end-of-year report, the HEHC projects resulted in 9,182 eye examinations, which resulted in 3,058 "new wearers." Grant objectives include:
- Strengthening the outreach of community health programs through AOA state optometric affiliates and their ability to interface and collaborate with a variety of state and local partners within as well as outside the optometric community.
- Increasing visibility of optometric care at the state and local levels.
- Promoting projects/results in a way that drives quality health care and the delivery of care to underserved children.
- Providing comprehensive eye examinations and eyeglasses to underserved youth through sustainable community-based solutions across the U.S.
Among the successful programs during the 2017-2018 grant cycle was the Illinois Eye Institute at Princeton Clinic, Chicago, Illinois. Students from the Chicago Public Schools attend the clinic—about 85% of the clinic's student population had failed vision screenings by school nurse programs. The clinic also provides community outreach in schools, day care centers and health fairs.
The goal of its project was two-fold: increase access to care for the underserved (many of the students are Medicaid recipients) and uninsured and provide primary and advanced eye care to youth. In Illinois, state law requires students entering the school system for the first time to receive screenings.
"There are many anecdotal stories by teachers, and the city's health department, about a child's improvement in school now that they can properly see the board, and children are equally surprised how clear everything is once they have the proper prescriptions," the project's final report reads. "Statistically, main reasons for return visits were to determine if a child's ability to focus had been corrected through eyeglass prescriptions.
"In terms of ocular abnormalities, it is estimated that approximately 9% (635) had convergence insufficiency, 7% (493) had amblyopia, and approximately 7% (493) had strabismus," the report added. "Vision therapy was provided (on-site) to more than 428 (6%) youth, many of whom required more than one session."
With the My First Exam project, doctors of optometry were there to plant the knowledge that regular, comprehensive eye examinations were essential to not only their vision but to their overall health. Beyond that, she adds, young people could look at optometry as a future career choice.
Dr. Chan recalls the students and parents who stopped by to explore the My First Eye Exam exhibit. Kids would take note of the phoropter, she says, and parents would comment, "Oh, we have to go get you an eye exam." Their comments presented an opportunity to talk about the importance of comprehensive eye examinations.
"This experience has been a joy," she says.
How doctors of optometry can help
Applications for the next round of Healthy Eyes Healthy Children grants will open in March.
Optometry Cares is committed to helping doctors of optometry provide vision and eye health care, whether through Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, the Healthy Eyes Healthy Children Community Grant Program, InfantSEE®,student scholarships, public education or preserving optometry's history.
To make a difference today, donate to Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation to help support this and other vision care programs in your end-of-year giving.
Support AOA’s ongoing commitment to delivering compelling, impactful education yearlong by submitting your course ideas, lectures or workshops by Nov. 1, 2020.
The AOA Foundation Recovery Fund will only take applications through Oct. 31 for doctors of optometry unduly affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency.
COVID-19 lockdowns took their toll on optometry practices, but the AOA’s advocacy and guidance in accessing federal relief measures helped the profession recover over a billion dollars.