When you consider 80 percent of everything a child learns is visual, you begin to understand the importance of detecting vision problems early. Imagine the cascading effect: taking longer to process information and complete assignments, falling behind by second grade, being classified as a slow learner, lower test scores, and potentially limited opportunities for college and career. Families with children throughout Houston face these challenges daily but do not have access to appropriate medical resources.
That’s where the University of Houston’s Mobile Eye Institute (MEI) rolls into action. This September marked the 10-year anniversary of the MEI, which launched through a partnership with the City of Houston. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated the bus to the city in gratitude for its caring for oil and gas workers displaced after Hurricane Katrina. UH leased it from the city for $1 a year.
Today the bus, outfitted with two optometry exam rooms, makes the rounds at schools, shelters, health clinics and juvenile detention centers to provide screenings and corrective lenses, primarily to kids who don’t have access to traditional care.
“We have kids that come back and say, ‘I can see from the back of the class and read the blackboard,’ ” said Chaminga Lorensuhewa, executive director for surgical services and external clinics at the UH College of Optometry.
Since the MEI first hit the road, more than 155 optometry students have seen 15,300 patients, often making life-changing diagnoses. They have also dispensed more than 6,500 pairs of glasses.
“Our program was designed to help people receive access to care that they otherwise would have not received,” said Gavin Gerondale, O.D., director of the UH Mobile Eye Institute. “It is truly rewarding to give back to the community.”
Not everyone drives a bus, but UH has a small army of students and researchers providing health care services well beyond Elgin and Scott Streets. Last year, College of Pharmacy students collaborated with health care groups and businesses on more than 100 outreach events, checking blood pressure and cholesterol, reviewing medications, providing mental health exams and immunizations for flu and shingles. They also provide education about hypertension, heart disease, nutrition and opioid addiction.
The UH HEALTH Research Institute is in a multiyear partnership with United Health Foundation to prevent and treat diabetes in Third Ward. “Our vision is to bring the right people and the right resources together,” said institute director Ezemenari Obasi, echoing the vision of UH Health—to identify and respond to the economic, social and cultural issues affecting health in Houston and beyond.