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Katherine K. Weise conducting an eye exam on a girl.

UAB School of Optometry & Sight Savers America: An invaluable partnership to Alabama’s Children

Shared with permission by: Nicole Williams & Jeff Haddox (Sight Savers America)

Sight Savers America (SSA) and the UAB School of Optometry (UABSO) have been partners for more than 17 years. The joint collaboration between SSA and UABSO coordinates and provides the following eye care services for children: eye examinations, eyeglasses, specialty glasses, vision therapy, low vision evaluations, electronic video magnifiers, optical vision aids, other treatments and referrals for surgery, and other ophthalmological services.

Katherine K. Weise (Associate Professor, UABSO) remembers when SSA first started, “I have watched their program grow since I was in the residency program at the UAB School of Optometry in the late 90’s when Sight Savers was just getting its footing. I know that any time we see a patient in need, we can call on SSA for assistance. SSA’s case managers tirelessly serve our patients as they work with each family one on one. They promptly provide comprehensive follow-up by arranging eye exams, eyeglasses, transportation to appointments when necessary, and coordinating any continued treatment needed. This is all done at no cost to the families!”

Weise added that “I’m convinced that Sight Savers America’s referral program has helped the UABSO Pediatric Clinic grow by about 400% in student encounters over the last couple decades and about 50% in overall patient census over the last decade. In terms of patient census, it's impossible to count how many siblings, parents, other relatives and friends come in regularly because of the one SSA child referral.”

Jeff Haddox (President & CEO, SSA) adds that, “Since those early years, UABSO has been working alongside SSA to identify and serve children in Alabama in need of eye care. Through free and discounted eye exams for these referrals, UABSO provides several thousand dollars of in-kind services to SSA each year. UABSO has helped SSA increase our provider network, hold rural eye clinics, and introduce our programs to new partners around the country. The support and partnership of the Dean, faculty and staff of UABSO has been successive and consistent over the last 17 years. This support has been invaluable to the growth and progress that SSA has experienced throughout these years.

SSA refers children to the clinical services arm of the Pediatric Optometry Service of UAB Eye Care, as well as to its NIH research endeavors. This not only provides a foundation for a great number of clinical care experiences for students, but also teaches the student the importance of providing opportunities for good vision care to children of all socioeconomic means. Further, children who qualify for research studies help to push the boundaries of children’s vision care.

SSA works closely with Wendy Marsh-Tootle (Associate Professor, UABSO) and the UABSO optical shop to provide special eyeglasses for children. Drs. Tootle and Marcella Frazier (Associate Professor, UABSO) have also provided us with their expert knowledge on vision-screening techniques. SSA also partners with Dr. Frazier to provide vision care specifically for Hispanic children.

Over the years, UABSO has donated low vision evaluations by Drs. Rod Nowakowski, Dawn DeCarlo, Marsha Swanson Snow, and Mark Swanson, resulting in recommendations for high-tech and other vision aids for SSA children. SSA has also referred many children to Dr. Kristine Hopkins and Dr. Sarah Lee for vision therapy. SSA founded the Black Belt Eye Care Consortium and partnered with UABSO and other organizations to provide eye care in the underserved Black Belt region of Alabama.

SSA’s head-to-toe KidCheck Plus health screening program in Birmingham city schools has partnered with DR. Felton Perry (Associate Professor, UABSO) to provide vision-screenings for elementary school children. Optometry students gain valuable clinical experience and interdisciplinary training by participating in these screening events with students from UAB Dental/Nursing/Medical/Physicians Assistant programs.

The UAB School of Optometry was an important sponsor of the SSA 2015 Hero For Sight Event. UABSO Dean, Kelly Nichols, is very enthusiastic about the longstanding partnership and is optimistic about the future of pediatric eye care. “The growing relationship between SSA and UABSO is strengthened with each referred child,” said Nichols. “Through our partnership and the continued dedication to meet eye care needs, we will continue to make a tremendous impact in the lives of the children in our state.”

For additional information, or to learn more about Sight Savers America, please visit www.sightsaversamerica.org.

Two optometry students conducting an eye exam on a child.