October 20, 2011
What happens when a passionate and dedicated retina specialist gets a wild idea to put his office on wheels and bring it to the people of Hawaii who need help the most? You end up with Project VISION Hawaii, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, mobile vision and health screening center.
This rolling eye care clinic was started three years ago by Dr. Michael Bennett and Retina Institute of Hawaii. It offers free retina screenings to people who might not otherwise have access to proper care. Since getting under way, it has seen over 4,500 people, from the uninsured and homeless to the migrant worker and average Joe, in communities across Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the Big Island and Molokai.
After seeing countless cases of preventable blindness that he was tasked to fix, Dr. Bennett undertook to triage patients and make them aware of any potential problems before they became symptomatic. He even donated the brand-new 36-foot-long RV in which the screenings are held. While these screenings are no substitute for an eye exam, they can serve to guide uninformed and uninsured populations to proper care.
Operating this mobile screening center is obviously expensive, and its success depends on generous in-kind donations from individuals and businesses statewide. Fortunately, in this case, generosity begins at home. The retina specialists at RIH volunteer their time at statewide events, screening and educating underserved populations. They then spend countless hours reviewing retina photos and recommending follow-up treatments.
On January 22, 2011, Project VISION Hawaii conducted a screening in collaboration with Kokua Kalihi Valley Clinic at its main site on School Street. With interpreters present, ophthalmologists and primary care doctors provided guidance for these hard-to-track, predominantly migrant populations. Though located just 2 miles from downtown Honolulu, the staff found eye diseases that mirror what one might expect to see in an impoverished developing country. Thirty percent of this population was uninsured, and many participants were unaware of how they could obtain insurance, or how or where they could visit an eye doctor.
Since this event, Project VISION has been diligently working to guide this population to proper eye care. Sending out follow-up letters is ineffective for people of this demographic, because many don't speak English, do not read in English or do not have a proper legal address.
While initial demographic forms in both Chuukese and Marshallese have been created, designating which language letters to send where is still a goal of the project, and more work needs to be done.
In addition, Retina Institute of Hawaii has generously taken on care for uninsured participants needing immediate, emergency attention, including a woman with count fingers vision (vision worse than 40/400). Handicapped by her diabetes and confined to a wheelchair, she was invited to RIH to take her fundus photos.
When she arrived, RIH staff and doctors quickly realized that fundus photos were just the beginning of her eye care needs. They ended up taking her in as a patient, then working hard to process her emergency insurance paperwork, eventually getting her the insurance she needs to pursue proper primary care.
Please assist Dr. Bennett and his team in pursuing their goal of improving the quality of life for Hawaii's underserved populations. Project VISION is a 501(c)(3) organization, and all donations are tax deductible.
Dr. Bennett sums up Project VISION this way: "When we say we bring better vision to Hawaii, we are talking about a lot more than just eyesight. We are talking about a better vision for your overall health."