For decades, SUNY Optometry, through the support of its foundation the Optometric Center of New York (OCNY), has provided in-home care for New Yorkers who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to leave their homes. This unique Homebound Program currently provides about 200 doctor visits each year to individuals in the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens. But the need to provide care to homebound patients continues to rise throughout the city, particularly as New York’s population grows increasingly older.
Now, thanks to a two-year, $120,000 grant to the OCNY from New York Community Trust, the College will expand its Homebound Program, hoping to double the number of patients seen in the next two years and establish a presence in The Bronx.
Vision is often a critical factor in maintaining personal safety and enhancing the quality of life for homebound patients. Older adults with impaired sight are at a much greater risk for falls and fractures, as well as depression and difficulty identifying medications, which can lead to serious drug-related errors and poor management of systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. In addition, growing numbers of individuals are experiencing vision loss from conditions like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, increasing the need for many homebound people to receive quality eye care. Too many of them simply are unable to get the care that they so desperately need.
“Thanks to the dedication of our doctors over the years, we’ve been able to help quite a few homebound patients,” said Dr. Richard Soden, SUNY Optometry’s director of health care development. “But there are so many more people who need care and we’re grateful that this grant from the New York Community Trust will allow us to build on our experience serving homebound patients and expand our program.”
The Homebound Program currently includes two optometrists, working one day each week in Manhattan and Queens. The program serves patients regardless of their ability to pay. Individuals in need of care are identified through a variety of sources, including self-referral, family members and through the College’s extensive referral network which includes primary care physicians, social workers and home agencies in addition to programs such as The Visiting Nurse Service, Mount Sinai Visiting Doctors program and Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, among others.
State-of-the-art portable equipment is used by the visiting doctors in order to provide a comprehensive visual examination in the home that includes refraction and ocular health assessment, glaucoma and cataract evaluation as well as the evaluation of systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. If glasses are needed, the frame is selected from a supply in the portable exam kit and adjusted on-site during the visit. The same frame is then inserted with proper lenses at the University Eye Center’s Essilor Eyewear Center and mailed to the patient. For those patients who live in poorly lit apartments, desk or standing lamps are also provided free of charge. Following the exam, doctors provide reports to the referral source for inclusion in the patient’s health record and the optometrist will be responsible for assessing patient needs at the time of the visit and scheduling follow-up appointments as needed.
In addition to the OCNY, the Homebound Program has also been supported by the Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation for the past eight years. In addition to facilitating growth of the program into the Bronx, the additional support provided by the New York Community Trust grant will also allow the College to develop promotional materials for the Homebound Program, in both English and Spanish, to help more New Yorkers become aware of the service.
“Our ability to expand this program is critical to the health care needs of our aging city,” Dr. Soden said. “It’s going to make a big impact on a lot of people’s lives.”