Vision Initiative Wins HAP Achievement Award
Bethlehem Partnership's Vision Initiative Wins HAP Achievement Award in Community Outreach and Engagement Category
The Bethlehem Partnership for a Healthy Community and St. Luke's Community Health Department have won the 2008 Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) Achievement Award for their Vision Initiative in the category of Community Outreach and Engagement.
According to officials at HAP, Pennsylvania's hospitals and health systems are among the most innovative and creative in their delivery of patient care services. “Each year, HAP honors this innovation, creativity and commitment to patient care through the annual HAP Achievement Awards, which showcases and shares member hospital and health system innovations and best practices in a variety of areas. The award categories for 2008 include: workforce, community outreach and engagement, patient safety, patient care, and operational excellence. Sixteen winners were selected from 100 entries this year.”
“This is one of the initiatives lead by Community Health through the Bethlehem Partnership,” says Bonnie Coyle, MD, medical director, St. Luke's Department of Community Health. “Melissa Craig, assistant director in the Community Health Department, wrote and submitted the application. She was instrumental in getting the Allentown-based program up and running last year, which is what the application was based on.”
According to the application, in 1998 Bethlehem area school nurses reported that only 78 of 1,315 (6 percent) of referred children returned completed vision examination documentation (including eye exam and glasses if indicated). Further discussion with the nurses and families identified that it was not lack of interest keeping these children from completing the referral, but more likely that the families did not have vision care coverage under their insurance plans (if they had insurance) or didn't understand their benefits under the insurance plans they may have had (many of which were public assistance plans). It was believed at that time that if funding and guidance for families could be established specifically to address vision needs, then the rate of children remaining with impaired vision would decrease. To this end, the Vision Initiative was formed with community partners and resources identified to address this concern.
In 2005, the Allentown Campus launched a search for ways to provide health care services to the growing underserved population of that city. After speaking with the school district, it was determined that many families with children attending Raub Middle School, adjacent to the hospital, were experiencing barriers to accessing very basic health care. This particular school has an 82 percent free/reduced lunch rate and a 40 percent turnover in student population per school year.
That school year (2005/06), 196 of 1,100 students failed their vision screening, with only 33 (17 percent) completing the referral process. “Vision was chosen as a priority to serve this specific part of their community and a goal of providing vision testing/glasses to every student who needed it during the 2006-07 school year was made,” says Craig. “Based on the success experienced in Bethlehem, this goal was seen as achievable.”
By the end of the 2006-07 school year, 221 of 256 vision care referrals were completed, an astounding 86 percent completion rate. “The impact of the follow-up process cannot be understated,” Craig adds, “and we know it played a key role in the success achieved at this one school. All of the partners are proud of the outcomes for this program in such a high need school.”
The Vision Initiative in both the Bethlehem and Allentown communities includes the following components to help low income children access the vision care they need:
Vision Vouchers – During each school year, vision vouchers are distributed by school nurses and family center staff to low income children who fail the annual school vision screening and need further evaluation. Through the voucher system, the students are referred (and transported if need is determined) to one of our six community partner agencies/businesses to receive eye exams, glasses, and education about proper eye care.
Portable Vision Equipment – In 2005-6, the Partnership secured grant funding to purchase portable vision equipment, so that children can receive care on a mobile unit at the school they attend. Local optometrists and ophthalmologists volunteer their time to conduct eye exams and fit the children for glasses at a reduced fee. This arrangement allows onsite care and eliminates transportation obstacles for many low income families. School-based service provision also enhances the capacity of the program to serve larger numbers of needy children.
Vision Van Services – The partners periodically request the Give the Gift of Sight Foundation Vision van to visit our local area to provide a week of service to children needing vision care services. During the assigned week, more than 400 children receive vision service (416 children were served during last spring's efforts and in April 2008, 288 children/teens were served over a two day period).