Illinois Eye Institute program helps uninsured and under-insured get necessary eye care

September 25, 2013
Dr. Winters

Dr. Winters

The Vision of Hope Health Alliance (VOHHA) is the most widely recognized, comprehensive eye care program for Chicago’s uninsured adult popuations. Established in 2003 as a pilot program of Vision of Hope within the Illinois Eye Institute (the IEI), VOHHA has grown to represent a unique model of health care delivery under the provision of eye care and related health services and is a recipient of Healthy Eyes Healthy People® grants in collaboration with the Illinois Optometric Association.

The VOHHA alliance coordinates the treatment and management of both ocular and systemic health disease and involves a network of more than 35 health and human service organizations brought together to provide a continuum of care.

Coalition members help in identifying and referring the uninsured to participate in the program.

VOHHA patients receive, at no charge, eye examinations, advanced diagnostic testing, eyewear and other health care services, such as information on disease and disease management, and links to primary care providers (PCP).

Janis Winters, O.D., VOHHA program director and Healthy Eyes Healthy People® (HEHP) grant recipient sums it up, “I am very proud of the eye care services that the Illinois Eye Institute has been able to provide to so many low-income uninsured adult individuals. Without the Vision of Health Hope Alliance many of these patients would not have been able to obtain eye care or eye glasses.”

The gateway to health care

VOHHA represents a unique model of health care delivery to low-income, uninsured individuals and is often the gateway for disenfranchised populations to become engaged in a broader health care network. It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the VOHHA patient population do not have access to primary care providers.

Many VOHHA patients come to the program when vision is already compromised and an underlying health issue is present, for which many are not receiving the appropriate level of care to address other health concerns.

“In addition, the high level of ocular disease and risk for or diagnosis of visual impairment found among patients in the VOHHA program illustrate the need for policy and programs which address the health care needs of vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Winters.

Advanced diagnostic exams and individual case histories allow ocular and systemic diseases to be identified and health treatment plans addressed.

The appropriate medical information and literature on disease management and healthy living is provided to VOHHA patients when systemic health issues are identified.

For those without access to primary care, referrals are made to a federally qualified health center (FQHC) coalition member.

Changing lives, one patient at a time

VOHHA’s primary goal is to provide primary and advanced eye care to 1,000 uninsured adults, at no charge to the individual.

Additional outcomes of the program include eyeglasses and/or other vision correction devices dispensed to approximately 85 percent (850) of the patients; upward of 30 percent (300) will require follow-up services, including treatment for diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts and other eye conditions; approximately 5 percent (50) will require surgical care; and approximately 20 percent (200) will be without primary care homes and connected to community partners.

Historically, the VOHHA patient population is approximately 45 to 50 percent black and more than 35 percent Latino. They represent Chicago’s working poor, homeless and transient populations.

More than 75 percent of the population have an underlying health issue that if not properly adressed could lead to permanent vision damage.

Many either have diabetes or pre-diabetes or have hypertension (glaucoma), while others have advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and other diseases that have already greatly impacted their vision.

Eye examinations that include dialation help in identifying underlying health issues – especially for a patient population that may be unaware of such conditions and not engaged in the medical system.

Approximately 60 percent of all referrals made to the VOHHA program come from alliance members, including local FQHC partners, and 30 percent from social service agencies. Others come by word of mouth and through patient financial services.

Special thanks to Dr. Winters and Matthew J. Asciutto, director, foundation relations at the Illinois College of Optometry, for contributing to this article.

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