Optometric foundation’s track record leads to $2.5 million grant for children’s eye care in Ohio

March 20, 2024
The state’s new Children’s Vision Initiative will work toward providing eye care to students throughout the state via the Ohio Optometric Foundation’s iSee program. Under the program, doctors of optometry volunteer to provide services to students who have been referred by school nurses and teachers.
Young boy behind optometric equipment

Images courtesy of Shane Foster, O.D.

The state of Ohio is entrusting the future eye health and vision care needs of thousands of school-aged children to doctors of optometry there.

Under the $2.5 million Children’s Vision Initiative, the state will cover the costs of delivering, in consultation with the Ohio Optometric Foundation (OOF), over 4,000 in-person, comprehensive eye exams and glasses to students in kindergarten through 12th grade in need of vision care. The OOF is the charitable arm of the Ohio Optometric Association, an affiliate of the AOA.

Dr. Shane Foster headshot

“The intent is not only to provide eye exams but also to raise awareness of the importance of children’s vision care,” OOF President Shane Foster, O.D., says. “When we found out we’d received the grant, we were all jumping up and down. It’s a big responsibility, but we are up to the challenge.”

They are excited at the prospect of potentially changing the vision trajectory and young people’s lives in the state. Doctors of optometry know that healthy eyes and vision—including early and timely intervention—can positively impact student success in the classroom and beyond. First, though, there must be access to care. “Learning to read, and acquiring comprehension, require well-tuned visual systems,” opened a 2021 AOA Health Policy Institute brief titled “The Science of Reading Begins with Vision.

Ohio optometry’s track record of success

The 20-year-old foundation has a history of advocating for children’s eye care—a consideration undoubtedly in being the only group mentioned in the language for the Children’s Vision Initiative appropriation. The foundation’s contract with the state was finalized in January.

In 2008, the foundation launched its flagship program iSee (in-School Eye Exam). The program provides free vision services at schools, where volunteer doctors of optometry conduct in-person eye exams. Dr. Foster notes that the program addresses the significant and documented gap between students being referred to eye doctors for care and those who actually make follow-up appointments at doctors’ offices. The iSee program takes eye care directly to schools.

Volunteer doctors of optometry are dispatched to the schools with mobile kits containing, for instance, portable slit lamps and phoropters. Donated eyeglasses, prescribed and then fitted by doctors, are sent directly to schools. For continuing care, students and parents are referred to doctors’ offices in the community.

iSee has conducted nearly 10,000 student eye exams since launching.

Most recently, in 2021, the foundation partnered with other children’s vision advocates, including the Ohio Optometric Association, to provide free vision services to young people in Ohio’s rural Appalachian region. Under iSee’s two-day events, school nurses help identify students in need of vision care.

The new initiative will be modeled after the iSee program but expanded.

The foundation is still assessing how to proceed with the Children’s Vision Initiative—what resources will be needed to reach an optimal number of students, what like-minded organizations to partner with and when to hold a stakeholders’ summit. Another innovation to the program? To encourage further follow-ups for care, a patient navigator may be engaged to work with families.

Whereas about 20% of school nurse and teacher referrals are followed up statewide, Dr. Foster says, the ResultsOHIO report on the Appalachian program indicated a follow-up rate of 96% between 2021-2023.

“Bringing the care right to the schools helps eliminate barriers to care,” Dr. Foster says, “but our ultimate goal is to establish a lifetime of care by connecting students with local providers. We will be able to expand the program exponentially.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine commented in an Ohio news service article: "We want all of Ohio's children to have the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential, and this program will make a significant difference in the lives of children whose families are otherwise unable to access vision care.”

iSee: High marks from school nurses

If the past is prologue, students will benefit from the initiative. A registered nurse at one high school wrote in a thank-you note about the 67 students “who will see so much better, and some of them for the first time will actually be able to see across the classroom. A whole new world has been given to them.”

Another registered nurse at an elementary school called iSee’s visit “truly a gift for students, parents and teachers alike.”

Another submission read: “Thank you, thank you for helping us help our students by providing them with the means to see the board and better read their books. We appreciate your group very much and are grateful for their dedication to young children.”

AOA member resources

Access the  AOA’s evidence-based pediatric guideline, as well as the  Myopia Management Clinical Report

Read more about AOA’s longstanding commitment to improving children’s access to care.

Learn more about a multi-year, public/private health care industry mobilization of health care professionals and others announced by  AOA President Ronald L. Benner, O.D., in June 2023.

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