NEE’s On-Sight Mobile Eye Clinic Delivers Benefits to Young and Old Alike

By John Sailer: Senior Editor


 The NEE On-Sight Mobile Eye Clinic.

The exam area of the mobile eye clinic.
When New England Eye (NEE) established the On-Sight Mobile Eye Clinic in 2010, it not only improved the vision of low income adults and children, but it also enriched their overall outlook on life as well. Children who received free eyeglasses and could now read the board stopped acting up and started getting good grades, while adults who were taught to cope with low vision found a renewed interest in socializing.

“When we improve vision in children, we also help their learning,” said Gary Y. Chu, OD, MPH, vice president of NEE community collaborations. “It opens up a lifetime of opportunities if things are mitigated at an early stage.” He recounted a story of a significantly nearsighted young girl who became an A student after the On-Sight Mobile Eye Clinic provided her with a free pair of glasses. “With children, it’s important that we work with their schools.”

Chu said, “On the other end, visually impaired older adults tend to not socialize, which has a cascading effect that can cause them to lose hope and lead to depression. If you improve the vision of the older adult population with major eye diseases, then you instill hope and create an environment that is safe for them, which changes their whole mentality.” For this population, improving their vision is not just about teaching them how to use a CCTV or a magnifier, but it also includes improving lighting and making their environment more visually functional so they can remain safe in their homes. It also includes educating their other health care providers and people in their immediate circle as well.

Launched in October 2010, the On-Sight Mobile Eye Clinic is a partnership among NEE (incorporated in 2002 as the teaching affiliate and patient care system of the New England College of Optometry—NECO), the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), and community organizations such as housing authorities, senior centers and schools. The clinic has already served 1,274 adults and 2,433 children, since its launch through November 2012.

Collaborating with local organizations is integral to the success of the On-Sight Mobile Eye Clinic. Financial support was provided by federal stimulus money from MCB, with additional funding from the Citizens Bank Foundation, The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, and the Ludcke Foundation. Other contributors have included The Sunshine Lady Foundation and the John W. Boynton Fund. The Benjamin Franklin Institute for Technology gets involved by edging lenses for selected frames, while parents, schools and pediatricians are informed of examination results and any recommendations for follow-up.

Operating four days a week, the On-Sight Mobile Eye Clinic is a 38-foot van equipped with a wheelchair lift and two exam lanes for comprehensive eye examinations and low vision rehabilitation. Patients who need eyeglasses can choose from a wide selection of frames available on the van. If their condition requires follow-up treatment, the staff refers them to a specialist and arranges transportation for treatment.

Five NECO faculty members (four optometrists and an occupational therapist) staff the clinic assisted by a patient care coordinator, MCB case manager and NECO students and residents. This enables the clinic to serve not only as a benefit for people in need in the community but also as a facility in which optometry students can get real world experience.

“It gives students a chance to learn practice management and delivery of patient education,” said Richard Jamara, OD, an MCB advisory board member and NECO professor. “We are training a new generation of doctors.”

The clinic has influenced practicing optometrists as well. According to its annual report: “During On-Sight’s inaugural visits to cities across the state, local optometrists were invited aboard the clinic to learn about NEE’s goals and the needs of local residents. Several local optometrists have since expressed interest in providing low vision services within their own practices to better serve the local population.”

Everyone wins, including practicing optometrists and optometric students, the participating organizations and the community at large. And, of course, the biggest winners are the underserved young and old patients whose improved vision enhances their overall outlook on life.