Little kids in California get their eyes tested every two years. Then the poor children wait while Medi-Cal officials take weeks, and maybe months, to send them their glasses so they can learn to read.
Former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner's non-profit organization, Vision to Learn, is driving a bus full of optometrists around the state, testing kids' eyes and issuing them glasses in two weeks, cutting through California's red tape with help from the Dodgers. They hope to give a quarter-million glasses to children who currently can't really see their computers, books, whiteboards and chalkboards. Read on:
Every other year when students get their mandated eye exams, a portion of the brood doesn't pass the test. Glasses are costly, and a large number of kids come from low-income families unable to provide their children with a fast solution.
"It's one of those things that's hard to believe, because students are screened every other year. But despite being screened, nothing is being done to solve the problem," Beutner says.
California's Medicare program, Medi-Cal, provides access to vision services but can't seem to meet the demand quickly, according to Beutner.
"The current delivery system doesn't do that fast enough," Beutner says.
So Buetner's group brings the glasses right to the kids.
The blurry-visioned kids get to visit a bus outside their school filled with with optometrists. Their eyes get electronically screened, a practice that Beutner says works better than reading (or trying to read) different-sized letters on a wall.
Students go through an array of lenses, get fitted with a new pair of frames, and get a prescription from the eye doctor. Two weeks later, brand-new glasses arrive in the students' hands.
The children and their parents do not need medical insurance. "Documented or undocumented, we help anybody that needs help," Beutner says.
The optometrists are on the lookout for other medical issues that could relate to their vision problems. Beutner says of the nearly 11,000 kids the program has treated, 15 percent needed further evaluation. Some common medical problems found are glaucoma and diabetes.
On the other hand, the former deputy mayor said that some of the kids seen in the mobile eye unit don't have vision problems at all: They're just having one of those days.
"In the bus they are re-screened, some of them are perfectly fine and just had a bad day then they are sent back to class," Beutner says.
Vision to Learn is supported by the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, which donates to the cause and sends players like A.J. Ellis and Brandon League to its events. Dodger Blue frames that include the team's LA logo are among the styles kids can choose from.
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Beutner says the fact that a bunch of kids get their glasses at the same time, and the involvement of the Dodgers, removes the old stigma among children toward wearing glasses. "There's safety in numbers and seeing a Dodger wear them makes it cool. The Dodger player and participation breaks down those barriers," Beutner says.
A study measuring the effectiveness of Vision to Learn, released last week by the UCLA School of Medicine and Public Health, showed that the program had increased students' academic performance and improved their self-esteem -- and sports performance.
The study found that a startling 95 percent of school children needing vision care do not have access to treatment.
Vision to Learn's next step is to seek some reimbursement from Medi-Cal, Beutner says.