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Thursday, Nov. 30
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

IU optometry school granted annual $14,000 endowment

The IU School of Optometry will be the recipient of an annual $14,000 endowment from the recently dissolved Saving Sight Indiana, a vision welfare organization formerly known as Prevent Blindness Indiana.

The money is meant to help the School of Optometry’s Community Outreach Clinic better provide vision care to underserved patients, School of Optometry Dean Dr. Joseph Bonanno said.

It will also allow Saving Sight Indiana to use its limited resources effectively, according to a press release.

In the past, IUSOCO has served numerous patients through its free care with support from grants and school subsidies, Bonanno said.

Grants come from the Marion County Department of Health, the insurance group Anthem, the Hoover Family Foundation and a variety of other organizations, Bonanno said, but the money goes quickly.

“That money always went up and down depending on whether the grants were available, and when the recession hit, all that money dried up, and it hasn’t come back,” Bonanno said. “We’re still writing grants, but what this endowment from Saving Sight Indiana gives us is a base.”

Before the endowment, IUSOCO didn’t have any base funding for its activities, which means that the money available could have reached zero dollars, Bonnano said.

With new annual funding, the School of Optometry can serve a minimum of about 200 patients a year through is outreach programs, Bonanno said.

“Having an endowment basically means that you can always count on that money, every year, coming through,” Bonanno said.

The Central Indiana Community Foundation holds the Saving Sight Indiana endowment funds, Bonanno said. Because CICF is located in Indianapolis, and most of IUSOCO’s activity takes place at the Indianapolis Eye Care Center, a lot of the money will be spent there.

Still, IUSOCO does “quite a bit of outreach here in Bloomington through the Volunteers in Medicine Program, called VIM,” Bonanno said.

The Volunteers in Medicine Program  provides free medical services to low income, uninsured Indiana residents of Monroe County and Owen County, according to the School of Optometry’s website.

These recipients of IUSOCO’s services in Bloomington often have jobs without benefits or work part-time, Bonanno said.

The recipients do have income, Bonanno said, but if it is below the federal poverty level, they qualify for the services.

Those services include free eye exams and reduced costs for glasses or medically indicated contact lenses, Bonanno said.

“What the money helps us do is create more exam times for these individuals so they don’t have to pay, and it also provides money for materials for their eye glasses and contact lenses,” Bonanno said. “We also have ophthalmological partners who will do an occasional surgery ... as part of the program.”

The School of Optometry has had a long partnership with Saving Sight Indiana, Bonanno said. Back when Prevent Blindness Indiana was in existence, the group’s mission was to find eye doctors who would provide free services to individuals in need throughout the state of Indiana.

When the organization stopped that activity and became Saving Sight Indiana, it had IUSOCO in Indianapolis administer the programs, Bonanno said. One is called Gift of Vision for adults, and the other is Sight for Students.

“Not only do we give the care directly in our school clinics, but let’s say somebody lives in Terre Haute, obviously they’re not going to drive all the way to Indianapolis or Bloomington, so we try to find eye doctors nearby who can then donate their services for that individual,” Bonanno said.

Bonanno said he thinks the School of Optometry’s outreach activities benefit not only underserved individuals, but the students administering services as well.

“We provide a lot of free services, and it’s a two-edged thing,” Bonanno said. “I mean, we’re helping the community, but we’re also — it’s training for the students. The patients often have multiple health problems, which means they have vision problems on top of health problems. So they’re difficult cases, which means, educationally, they’re excellent patients for our students. So it’s win-win.”

When looking toward the future, Bonanno said he thinks IUSOCO and other vision care outreach programs will continue to need grants, subsidies and other sources of funding because they will remain essential within communities.

“Some of the need theoretically will be reduced with the Affordable Care Act,” Bonanno said. “But it’s not going to be ideal, and there’ll still be a lot of people who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid for whatever reason, depending on the state rules. So there will always be a need to serve this population.”

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