Advancing Care by Advancing Access

Sight + Sound, Fall 2020

by Carrie Fogel

For thirty-five years, the Eye & Ear Foundation has been committed to supporting promising research in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh that has the potential to transform patient care and patient outcomes. Better care leads to better health, and we are fortunate to be living and working in a region with the highest quality academic medical center that attracts experts from around the globe to improve the care we can offer to people. However, while Pittsburgh has so many excellent resources and services to provide those with medical needs, we know that there are people within our community that are still unable to access the care they need. Access to care and other factors, more commonly known as ‘social determinants of health,’ can account for as much as 80% as a person’s health or wellbeing. These determinants, such as socioeconomic factors, physical environment, and health behaviors, all contribute to one’s overall health, and we know that without addressing these needs, the care that our hospitals and our research can offer is less effective.

Department Chairmen, Jonas T. Johnson, MD, and José-Alain Sahel, MD, have spent their careers treating patients with vision loss, hearing loss, cancers of the head and neck, and other life-altering conditions. Over the past several years and months, both Dr. Johnson and Dr. Sahel have sought ways to address health in more systemic methods, getting to the root cause of why patients cannot comply with treatment and seeking ways to educate, empower and connect patients to resources that will improve their understanding of and access to medical care. To support the Chairmen and these projects, and to emphasize the importance of equity, inclusion, and diversity to our Departments, the Eye and Ear Foundation Board of Directors has formed the Community Outreach Committee, which will offer guidance for pursuing projects and outside partnerships.

The Community Outreach Committee is led by Eye & Ear Foundation Board member and community leader Nancy D. Washington, PhD. Dr. Washington has long been a champion for social causes in Pittsburgh and has a wide range of experience working with community organizations to focus their efforts on equity. “The Eye & Ear Foundation has demonstrated its commitment to the value of health equity by providing to our community programs such as HearUP, Hearing Loss and Social Isolation, and the Guerilla Eye Service.” Dr. Washington states. “Our committee plans to amplify these and other new programs that address the vision and hearing needs of children and adults who are living in neighborhoods that have been marginalized and underserved, and promoting and support research and patient care initiatives that will be replicable, impactful, and sustainable.”

Among the current initiatives to reach our community, such as those mentioned by Dr. Washington, our Departments are looking for new ways to support the overall health of our community. In the Department of Ophthalmology, a patient champion was recently hired to work with patients one-on-one to find solutions to issues such as transportation, prescription assistance, food access, insurance, among others. Additionally, Dr. Sahel and colleagues within UPMC and the UPMC Health Plan are finding new ways to work together to begin programs such as an internship program for high school students and a workforce development initiative. In the Department of Otolaryngology, Dr. Johnson is working through the Survivorship Clinic to collect data on health literacy and its correlation to health outcomes, with the intent of providing information and recommendations for interventions to providers around the country. Both Chairmen and the members of this Committee look forward to working together to help the Eye & Ear Foundation grow its footprint of making our community a healthier, more equitable place to live.

Should you wish to support our community outreach initiatives, please email