HEHC grants making innovative community eye care possible

December 11, 2017
Consider end-of-year donations to Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation.
Healthy Eyes Healthy Children (HEHC)

It never fails to surprise Tracey Needham, O.D., just how many schoolchildren go about their day-to-day studies with significant, uncorrected vision impairment.

"Most of these children have never had their eyes examined before," Dr. Needham says of the students typically seen by the Ohio Optometric Foundation's In-School Eye Exam (iSee) program. The initiative connects children who fail their school's rudimentary vision screening to comprehensive eye examination services furnished by local, volunteer doctors of optometry.

"In Ohio, nearly 50% of the students who fail to pass the school vision screening do not follow up with the school nurse's recommendation to see an optometrist," she adds. "These children are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to learning and succeeding in school."

As the program's name suggests, iSee takes the critical eye examination and eyewear directly into the school to help curb that troubling trend. Since iSee began, more than 1,100 students have received eye examinations, dispensing nearly 1,000 glasses. Most recently, Nov. 29-30, iSee examined 58 students in Canton, Ohio, dispensing 57 pairs of eyeglasses.

While such a program benefits from the hard, charitable work of volunteers, there's another equally crucial—and difficult to find—aspect to its success: equipment, materials and resources. But that's where Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation can intervene.

For the kids

The Healthy Eyes Healthy Children (HEHC) Community Grant Program, sponsored by the Essilor Vision Foundation, is an Optometry Cares initiative that focuses on increasing outreach of vision services to communities, families, schools and the medical community with special attention to underserved children. The program furnishes up to $5,000 in grant money to projects that help support those goals and align important optometric care within the community.

By taking a grassroots approach through the optometric community and working through existing community-based vision care models across the country, funding is intended to spread awareness and increase vision services to address uncorrected vision in each community.

"Collaboration with community and government partners expands local eye care awareness as well as sustainability of the programs built as a team," says Carol Marusich, O.D., Optometry Cares Board and HEHC committee member. "HEHC makes a difference for the children, the community and optometry while providing the seeds for future projects across the country."

This year, HEHC awarded more than $65,000 across 14 grants, helping doctors of optometry reach more than 100,000 people in 12 geographically diverse states. Funded by Essilor Vision Foundation, which also provides in-kind lens and lab support, HEHC received more than 30 applications in 2017.

Carol Record, O.D., Optometry Cares Board and HEHC committee co-chair, explains that funding fell into several different categories, including supporting transportation to optometric care, purchasing equipment for pediatric examination sites, purchasing children's eyeglasses, and providing education regarding the importance of comprehensive eye care among children.

"Despite inclusion of children's eye examinations as an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act, children are still lacking care and are in need of eye examinations and eyeglasses," Dr. Record notes. "The projects funded through the HEHP grant process will help to close the gaps in care, either through direct examination of children or education of the need for eye examinations to parents and community leaders."

This year's grant application process uncovered a need for product, material and equipment support to facilitate larger-scale pediatric examinations, Dr. Record says. As such, she expresses a desire to see more companies, as well as individual donors, step forward to help: "This year your donations are needed more than ever."

iSee success

Ohio's iSee program fell under the umbrella of those projects needing equipment and material support, Dr. Needham says, allowing the program to continue delivering such impactful services, now and into the future. It's easy to see how, already, the program is making a lasting impression. Dr. Needham shares the experience of a volunteering doctor in Vinton County, one of the poorest regions in Ohio with no doctor of optometry county-wide.

Jon Mesarch, O.D., recounted examining an 8-or-9-year-old girl, born with a corneal defect in her right eye. Although she'd undergone a corneal transplant, her parents believed they had done all they could to help her.

"When I asked her about school, the sweet young girl said, 'I don't read very well,' Dr. Mesarch wrote. "Realizing that she was legally blind in both of her eyes, I was hoping that we would be able to help in any way that we could. Although it was going to take a very strong lens, I was pleased to find out that she could see some of the largest letters on the eye chart."

He continued: "To find children like the little girl I mentioned and make a difference in her life was a tremendous blessing. I am grateful to have been a part of it."

Make a difference today

Optometry Cares is committed to helping doctors of optometry provide vision and eye health care, whether through HEHC grants, InfantSEE, Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, student scholarships, public education or preserving optometry's history, Dr. Marusich says.

"Donations to Optometry Cares support these programs so we can continue to help doctors of optometry provide that care," she says. Here's how you can make a difference today:

Contact Healthy Eyes Healthy Children to receive more information on the HEHC program, and read how the profession's donations help support vision care for the smallest of patients.

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