Making Care Available to All

S+S, Spring 2024, p. 6

Community care has long been a focus point in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. In the past few years, however, both Departments — along with the Eye & Ear Foundation — have placed a greater emphasis on access to care, social determinants of health, and ensuring that everybody has access to the world class care taking place in our Departments. While some of these programs have existed for many years, new initiatives are hitting their stride thanks to the formation of the Eye & Ear Foundation Community Outreach Committee. Consisting of Board members, physicians, and community members, this committee’s goal is to strategize and create partnerships that can further the goals of the Foundation and Departments while engaging in nontraditional care delivery.

In Ophthalmology, Dr. Jake Waxman continues to lead efforts of the Guerilla Eye Service (GES) to provide free community vision screening clinics around the Pittsburgh region and beyond. These efforts were greatly enhanced in 2023 when the Brother’s Brother Foundation donated a $150K customized eyeVan for this work in the community. The Department also added Dr. Andrew Williams to the faculty. Dr. Williams, who is a glaucoma specialist, has research interests that include access to care, social determinants of health, and how to better reach the patients that need our care. This addition will help the Department tackle growing problems such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration in our community.

On the Audiology front, Dr. Catherine Palmer and her team have addressed community care needs for hearing loss with programs like as HearCare (which makes assisted living facilities more accessible) and HEAR-UP (running free clinics to fit hearing aids). Recently, Dr. Palmer developed LiDIA, an affordable, compact device that can be used as both a hearing screener and amplifier for patients in various medical clinics, such as primary care practices. 

The Departments are also working on joint community projects together. In 2022, both Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology began participating in the annual Mission of Mercy, a two-day free health care clinic held at the Pittsburgh Convention Center. Over the past two years, the Eye & Ear Foundation has raised over $200,000 to provide free eye exams, glasses, hearing exams, hearing aids, and otology care to over 1400 patients.

Additionally, with a $412,000 grant from the Eden Hall Foundation, both Departments are collaborating on the THRIVE program. Using a community stakeholder approach, clinical care teams are creating a training program for community health workers to address hearing and vision health in their communities. We hope that this program is something that can be implemented not only here in Pittsburgh but shared with other organizations and care providers around the country.