Bringing eye care closer to home: OHSU trains community health workers for statewide network

Gerry Vasquez, a community health worker with Hood River’s One Community Health, has his eye pressure tested during a basic eye health training session in Hood River on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

It’s only Gisela Ayala Echeverria started kindergarten about two decades ago when her family realized she needed glasses.

Gisela Ayala, a smiling woman wearing glasses, she has long black hair.

Gisela Ayala Echeverria (OHSU)

Her parents are farm workers and did not know where they could get eye care. Although they were eventually referred to a local doctor’s office, the provider did not speak Spanish. Despite her young age, she had to provide unofficial interpreting services between her parents and the provider as she had her eyesight checked.

Today, Ayala Echeverria is determined to ensure that others have better and more culturally appropriate access to eye care so that other families don’t have to go through what hers went through.

She is among nine community health workers from Hood River’s One Community Health who were the first to receive training in the basics of eye health on Nov. 12, 2021, as part of a nationwide effort. State to improve access to eye care for the underserved and underinsured. residents.

Called Oregon Vision Health Network, the effort involves OHSU’s Casey Community Outreach Program developing partnerships with community clinics across the state. OHSU will train local community health workers and clinical staff as vision health navigators who will help local residents determine if they need eyeglasses or if they might have common sight-threatening illnesses such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Additionally, OHSU will provide its partner community clinics and their navigators with ongoing support and resources, with the ultimate goal of addressing vision health inequities in Oregon.

Mitchell Brinks, MD (OHSU) A smiling light brown haired man.

Mitchell Brinks, MD (OHSU)

“This statewide network provides local health officials with the knowledge they need to prevent eye problems and preserve vision in their community,” said Mitchel Brinks, MD, MPH, Medical Director of the OHSU Outreach Program and Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the OHSU School of Medicine. “We are honored to work alongside community health clinics to better meet the eye health needs of underserved Oregonians, right in their own backyards.”

Ayala Echeverria is part of One Community Health’s preventative health team, which provides education and support for patients living with chronic illness. At least 500 of the clinic’s patients have diabetes, which can lead to life-threatening vision problems if left unchecked. She plans to use the information she learned during the training to help others in her community better understand their eye health risks and prevent conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.

In addition to training local clinic staff, the Oregon Vision Health Network will bring advanced eye imaging equipment that uses a technology called optical coherence tomography, or OCT, to up to eight partner clinics. OCT, which performs a rapid, multi-dimensional scan of the interior of the eye, provides a non-invasive way to diagnose and inform treatment of eye diseases such as macular degeneration.

Community clinic staff will operate the OCT equipment locally and send the resulting images to ophthalmologists at OHSU Casey Eye Institute in Portland, who will then review and provide recommendations to clinic patients. In December, One Community Health in Hood River is expected to become the first partner clinic to receive this equipment.

Being a network partner allows One Community Health to expand the services it provides to its 18,000 patients, approximately 64% of whom are on Medicaid or uninsured and approximately 40% speak Spanish. The federally licensed health center currently offers behavioral health services, primary medical care, and dental services. Soon, he will also be offering some basic eye health services at his Hood River clinic as well as his mobile health clinics. Although they do not provide advanced eye care at home, they will help connect their patients with local eye care providers if needed. One Community Health aims to help its patients understand their risks and take preventative action now, so that specialist care is not needed later.

An image of Gladys Rivera, director of preventive health at One Community Health.  A woman with dark wavy hair smiling.

Gladys Rivera (OHSU)

“This creates a new level of access for our community,” said Gladys Rivera, director of preventive health at One Community Health. “When you screen a patient in advance, you can treat eye problems early and prevent blindness.”

Throughout the first five years of the Oregon Vision Health Network, patients will receive care free of charge. The equipment and infrastructure needed to make this possible is supported by two generous donations, totaling $3.25 million, which were jointly given to the OHSU Casey Community Outreach Program by philanthropist Heather Killough and the Roundhouse Foundation at the start. of 2021.

The Oregon Vision Health Network extends the efforts of the OHSU Casey Eye Institute to end preventable blindness. OHSU’s Casey Community Outreach Program mobile eye clinic has provided free eye exams to more than 10,000 Oregonians in every corner of the state since 2010. But while OHSU’s mobile clinic does not can visit each community only every 1.5 to 2 years, trained community health workers and clinical staff can screen local residents for eye diseases year-round.