In her capacity as Flagler Health Department’s School Health Coordinator, registered nurse Stephanie Ear screens thousands of Flagler School students each year. A few years ago, she started noticing that the number of children failing mandatory student vision screenings was increasing. At the same time, she noticed that less than 40 percent of the students who failed the screening followed up with a visit to the eye doctor. Since there is a connection between vision and student success, Stephanie started looking into how to get more elementary school students to receive follow up care from eye doctors.
Typically, when students fail a vision screening, letters are sent home and the school tries to follow up with parents. That’s where the challenges begin: parental transportation issues, difficulty getting off work and having to take more time off to return to the doctor. Insurance also comes into play; those fortunate to have vision coverage often have specific schedules of when appointments can be scheduled. Then, there’s the actual cost of prescription glasses themselves and the reality that a child will need a second par in case one is lost or broken.
Fortunately, Stephanie connected with Florida Heiken, an organization with a Children’s Vision Program that provides no cost eye exams and glasses (if necessary) for Florida public school students who qualify. Florida Heiken is one of two state funded vision programs that help at-risk students achieve academic and social success by making services available to uninsured public school students in grades K through 12 who have failed a school-based vision screening and are in need of follow-up and possible corrective lenses. After some negotiation, the Miami-based Florida Heiken team arrived in Flagler County last week to screen children who had failed vision screenings this year and others who needed an exam.
A few weeks earlier, Stephanie had worked with nurses in each elementary school to identify students for this trial program and made sure that parents of these students completed consent form. Starting with Bunnell Elementary, Florida Heiken staff, which included a licensed eye doctor (optometrist), gave thorough in-school eye exams (with dilation) to 18 students and then allowed the children to select their own eyeglass frames for free. The prescription glasses will be delivered back to the school in two weeks for student pick up. After visiting Bunnell, the Heiken team moved on to four other public elementary schools providing the same service and potentially free prescription glasses to approximately 175 students.
Based on initial feedback, DOH-Flagler expects to expand its partnership with Florida Heiken during the 2020/2021 school year. Provided there is more time to promote the program with parents and to encourage student participation, many more students can receive free vision care and glasses in the future. According to Florida Heiken, 85% of what a child perceives, comprehends, and remembers depends on the visual system. It is imperative that all children have the gift of good vision for success in school and their future. Through this program, the health department and school officials have an outstanding opportunity to improve student success by making sure that children who need eyeglasses can get them.