Donors Help Expand Vision Care Statewide
A new way of practicing eye care could have a profound effect on our goal to end preventable blindness in Oregon.
A $3.25 million donation from The Roundhouse Foundation and philanthropist Heather Killough, with help from community partners around the state, has established the Oregon Vision Health Network (OVHN).
Rather than treating one patient at a time after they develop symptoms, the network uses a combination of telehealth, community health workers and mobile units to provide better eye care more quickly to more Oregonians.
Why is screening so important?
Diabetic eye disease, glaucoma and macular degeneration are the leading causes of preventable blindness. All can be found by screening – but without screening, the outcome can be poor.
“Six in 10 cases of common eye disease may not be found until they have caused permanent damage to the eye,” says Dr. Mitch Brinks, director of Casey’s Community Outreach Program. For more than a decade, the outreach program has supported eye care in rural and underserved communities
Eye care, close to home
The Oregon Vision Health Network includes more than 50 community health organizations around the state, from Hillsboro to Hood River, LaGrande and beyond.
Helping local health organizations provide screening and care in their communities removes one large barrier to accessing quality eye care: going to an unfamiliar place. As Dr. Brinks explains, “Going to an eye specialist is not in most people’s routines. To overcome this unfamiliarity, we’re reaching out through the clinics people already know and trust.”
The OVHN also includes telehealth – virtual visits with an eye specialist for patients who need them. Telehealth creates the access to regular eye care that is so important for people whose conditions, such as diabetic eye disease, need regular monitoring.
Navigators helping neighbors
More than 60 community health workers have been trained so far as vision health navigators, or VHNs. They conduct vision screenings, assess eye disease risk and connect patients with local resources. They are also trained to recognize social and environmental factors that increase the risk of blindness.
Vision navigators are thrilled to be providing this care. “It’s a dream come true for them, because they’ve seen the eye problems in their communities firsthand,” says Dr. Brinks.
Donor support will make free vision screening and eye imaging available for the first five years of the OVHN – a priceless gift that will change hundreds of lives.
Mobile clinics take screening around the state
The Casey Community Outreach mobile clinic has been in use since 2010 and has screened more than 11,000 patients. The mobile clinic was recently refurbished with the latest in screening and imaging technology to better detect and diagnose common vision threatening diseases.
The mobile clinic is an important part of the OVHN to reach people historically underserved in medicine who encounter significant barriers to accessing quality eye care. Being able to meet people where they are in their own communities is an important part of the success of the program.
Philanthropic support from The Roundhouse Foundation, Heather Killough, and other generous donors has allowed Casey to add a second mobile clinic, also equipped with advanced technology, exam lanes and a lift for those with mobility challenges. This second mobile unit will increase the number of underserved people all over the state who receive free vision screenings and glasses that they would not otherwise have access to.
The eye care of the future
“Bringing public health and eye care together will pay off,” says Dr. Brinks. “It generally costs much less to treat disease in the early stages. Patients can avoid symptoms, worry, and the more extensive treatment they need if their eyes develop a serious problem.” He concludes, “The value of community eye care is measured not just in dollars, but in quality of life.”