The Illinois Eye Institute (IEI), the clinical division of the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), provides comprehensive eye care to a racially and economically diverse population at its location on Chicago’s near south side. Through seed support from the Washington Square Health Foundation and the State of Illinois, the IEI launched a program in 2001 called Vision of Hope (VOH). VOH was a network of 17 service agency and health clinic partners that referred uninsured, underinsured and indigent adults to IEI for primary eye care services. With additional philanthropic support, over 2,000 new patients were served through VOH. Approximately 90% required eyeglasses and 70% suffered from some form of ocular disease. The rates of ocular pathology and vision problems significantly exceeded national averages, and demonstrated the high level of need for eye care services among the low income, uninsured population in Chicago. Alarmingly, 70% of the VOH patients were identified as also suffering from some type of systemic disease such as hypertension and/or diabetes. Moreover, 33% of the VOH patients reported no history of medical evaluation and another 17% had not visited a doctor within the previous year. Clearly, a serious gap in health care existed for these patients.
The VOH project also observed that lack of vision to conduct their daily lives is more likely to send many for care than the dangerous but less symptomatic systemic diseases from which they suffer. As a result, a significant number of individuals first learn that they need medical attention because they are having vision problems and many more who seek eye care poorly understand their health condition(s) or the long-term implications. Thus, by delivering health education, improving patient-provider communication, and coordinating case management, eye care and other health care providers have an opportunity to make important links to improve the overall health of the community.
In November 2003, grants from the Washington Square Health Foundation and other local foundations enabled ICO and its partners to begin piloting the Vision of Hope Health Alliance (VOHHA) to coordinate the treatment and management of ocular and systemic disease among underserved populations. Additional Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) were added to establish the primary health care component of VOHHA and the Washington Square Health Foundation’s grant provided a public health expert to serve a Project Evaluator. By June 2005, the VOHHA pilot program had served over 700 patients, 19% of whom required medical referrals but did not have a primary care physician. These patients were referred to the partnering FQHCs with the assistance of the program’s case worker. Another 46% of the patients were provided clinical findings forms to take back to their primary care physician.
The success of the pilot project positioned the VOHHA program for an application to the Local Initiative Funding Partners (LIFP) program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The Washington Square Health Foundation served as the nominating funding partner and led a successful site visit in April 2005. In June 2005, ICO was named one of seventeen recipients (out of 295 initial applicants) of an LIFP grant from RWJF. The grant provides up to $500,000 over four years in matching funds which will result in $1,000,000 dedicated to expanding the VOHHA program to serve people in need. The most recent grant from the Washington Square Health Foundation helped to secure the matching funds for Year One of the program.
Projected outcomes include: providing 4,000 uninsured adults from Chicago with comprehensive eye care and all necessary materials and follow-up services (1,000 patients per year); providing medical referrals to an estimated 800 patients who do not have primary care providers and securing appointments at partnering health centers with the help of the program’s case workers; and providing patient education and encouraging patients to participate in their healthcare. Institutions from around the country are now interested in this model program