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Eye Care Community Outreach Program receives national public health award

ECCO co-directors Dewana Allen (left) and Kelli Barker

Indiana University's Eye Care Community Outreach Program (ECCO), a joint project of the IU School of Optometry and the IU School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology, received an Outstanding Project Award from the American Public Health Association last month. ECCO co-directors Dewana Allen and Kelli Barker oversee the program, which provides access to vision health care for uninsured and low-income individuals in central Indiana.

The American Public Health Association is the oldest and largest public health association in the world, representing public health organizations and professionals throughout the country. The Outstanding Project Award recognizes a person, group or institution that has contributed significantly to the advancement of vision care in the public health field.

Since April 2004, ECCO has worked to meet the vision care needs of individuals in the counties of Marion, Hendricks, Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Morgan, Johnson and Shelby who do not have health insurance and have an income below 200 percent of the poverty level. ECCO provides patients with information and education, and coordinates with local organizations to offer referrals for free vision care and other social and medical services.

"Many people think of eye care as secondary to their primary health care, but preserving good ocular health is pivotal to maintaining self-sufficiency and independence," Barker said. "Also, by getting regular eye exams, eye doctors can detect the first signs of many diseases not only in the eye, but the rest of the body as well."

"Education is a huge component of our program," Allen said. "I want people to know how important it is to get an eye exam. One of our goals is to go out into diverse communities -- to nursing homes, to schools and to shelters, as well as reach those that are at high risk for developing eye diseases or eye problems such as Hispanics, African-Americans, children, seniors and individuals with chronic diseases."

ECCO's services are crucial, Barker said, because the people who are most likely to be without insurance are also the most likely to be affected by health conditions that can lead to vision loss, such as diabetes, heart disease and sickle cell anemia.

"We also connect people to other health services beyond optometry and ophthalmology," Allen said. "The eyes can reveal a number of health conditions, and we want to make sure that people are referred to the appropriate office or agency when they need other services."

For more information about the program, visit http://www.opt.indiana.edu/ecco.

ECCO is supported by funds from the Anthem/Wellpoint Foundation, the Marion County Health Department, the Indianapolis Foundation, Hoover Family Foundation and the Alcon Foundation.