Eye care on wheels: New Jersey optometrists bring services to preschoolers

August 14, 2013
A South Jersey Eye Center volunteer examines a young patient.

A South Jersey Eye Center volunteer examines a young patient.

A $3,500 grant from AOA’s Healthy Eyes Healthy People® program, administered by Optometry Cares®-the AOA Foundation, helped New Jersey ODs reach underserved and uninsured toddlers and preschool children by bringing eye and vision care to neighborhoods with low access.

The goal of New Jersey’s Camden City Head Start on Vision Initiative program is to increase the proportion of children ages 5 years and younger receiving eye exams from eye care providers in the preceding 12 months.

The South Jersey Eye Center (SJEC) provides comprehensive follow-up services to children and extends its services to areas where 50 percent of children live at or below the poverty line with no access to vision care. The program was able to provide comprehensive exams and glasses (when needed) for 92 children.

The availability of the mobile vision clinic serves as a key advantage in increasing access to care for children. SJEC mobile clinic staff work with members at four Head Start programs to schedule examination site visits, and the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired conducts screening services for children.

Local Lions Clubs and New Eyes for the Needy provided additional examinations and, when necessary, corrective eyewear.

Lawrence A. Ragone, O.D., founder and patient care coordinator for the SJEC, coordinated the entire program and was instrumental in developing the initial relationships with agencies involved.

Shelby Baker, O.D., a long-standing volunteer, provided the professional services on behalf of the SJEC.

To promote the program in the communities it serves, SJEC support staff were in constant contact with the project collaborators in making sure there was promotional material available for parents of the targeted toddlers and preschoolers.

The South Jersey Eye Center Mobile Vision Clinic prepares for a trip to serve those with low access to vision care.

The South Jersey Eye Center Mobile Vision Clinic prepares for a trip to serve those with low access to vision care.

“The materials provided explained the importance of childhood eye examinations, and with our facility being in the neighborhood of the program, we were happy to provide these services in our office,” said Dr. Ragone.

Dr. Ragone also uses educational brochures published by the AOA and National Eye Institute during patient visits.

“The Center for Family Services was extremely helpful in disseminating material about the project to their constituents as well as providing follow-up eye health educational material to their clients and partners,” said Dr. Ragone. “Without the support of the American Optometric Association, Healthy Eyes Healthy People®, and our other program partners, this initiative, like all SJEC patient care programs, would not be possible, leaving an unmet need for vital eye health and vision services in communities that need them the most.”

The New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians supports the ongoing endeavors of the SJEC throughout the year.

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