The AOA House of Delegates conducting business during the 2021 Optometry’s Meeting.
Photo courtesy of AOA
DENVER—Gathering for their first in-person meeting in two years, doctors of optometry, students and paraoptometrics brought a renewed energy and sense of purpose to Optometry’s Meeting 2021, the American Optometric Association annual conference held here last week. Acknowledging the difficulties optometrists have faced during the pandemic, AOA leaders spoke candidly about the challenges of caring for patients and coping with shutdowns. Speaking to the organization’s members, AOA executive director Jon Hymes said the goal was to focus on “recovery, renewal and the future,” according to a report in the AOA News.

Hymes remarked that the pandemic reveled two truths: “No. 1: Doctors of optometry have made an important difference for our country through this year of historic crises. The second: Our organizations—the affiliates and the AOA—have made an important difference for our doctors. Just as all of you adapted and overcame to deliver the safest, highest-quality care, the affiliates and the AOA adapted and overcame to live up to our mission: to advocate for the profession and to serve doctors of optometry in meeting the health and vision care needs of the public.

“The AOA and the affiliates helped optometry to answer America’s urgent call for help,” Hymes added. “As a result, doctors of optometry and your essential role in the delivery of primary health care is—from coast to coast—a settled matter of enacted law, finalized regulation, emergency declarations, public health proclamations and community-by-community clinical reality.

"It is health care fact, something I could not have said any of the 15 previous times I’ve been privileged to report to this House (of Delegates). In March of 2020, in the midst of the most far-reaching and deadly public health crisis in a century, doctors of optometry met the moment with knowledge, skills, compassion and courage that have defined the now accelerating pace of its advancement.”

AOA leaders noted that in addition to providing much needed care to patient, AOA actively supported its members during the pandemic by implementing a two-month dues waiver, a dues and assessment freeze, an organization-wide reprioritization to focus on crisis relief, creation of a $500,000 fund to assist distressed affiliates; and establishment of an AOA-led, industry-supported Recovery Fund under Optometry Cares—The AOA Foundation.

“Because of the hard work of a lot of people, AOA is coming out of the pandemic stronger than when we entered it,” commented AOA president William T. Reynolds, OD.

In a welcome return to normalcy, Optometry’s Meeting also featured familiar elements of past meetings, such as optometric continuing education and professional development with the opportunity to network among not only industry professionals and colleagues from across the nation but also optometry's leaders. A new slate of AOA officers was sworn in (see related story below) and AOA conducted its official business which included advocating for legislative initiatives to advance optometry on the national level.

“We worked to ensure doctors of optometry were able to obtain PPP, EIDL and HHS money,” Dr. Reynolds said. “This focus helped us seize legislative opportunities that arose, in part because of the pandemic,” he added. “We were able to get HHS to declare us as an ‘essential health care provider.’ We received the right to give vaccinations, the VA repealed the ban on doctors of optometry doing laser procedures and we were able to get Anthem to discontinue the practice of automatically down-coding optometric services.
"We have our best shot in decades of being reincluded in the National Health Service Corps loan forgiveness program. Our DOC Access and robocall legislation has increased legislative support and an excellent chance of moving forward, and the Enhanced Medicare Bill has vision benefits embedded in the medical plan where they belong.”

Highly decorated NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Navy flight surgeon Capt. Jerry Linenger, MD, PhD, delivered the keynote address during the Optometry’s Meeting opening event, supported by Johnson & Johnson Vision, on Thursday. The veteran of multiple shuttle missions, including a fateful, five-month stint on the Russian space station Mir, Dr. Linenger spoke about overcoming isolation and persevering in the face of incredible challenges, according to AOA News.