August 26, 1996
Media Contact: Marc Kusintz
Phone: (410) 955-8665
"This is an effective way to prevent blindness in many individuals with treatable disease."
The Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute has formed an unique partnership with 150 Baltimore churches to identify and treat eye disease among city residents who otherwise may not get medical care.
The program, Sight N Soul, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson and Hoffberger foundations, will train up to 200 laypersons to perform basic vision checkups in community centers, churches and apartment houses. To date, more than 700 people have been screened and 150 referred to Wilmer for further examinations at no cost.
Sight N Soul is a part of East Baltimore's Heart, Body and Soul program, an interfaith health care screening program jointly operated by local church communities and The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
Wilmer accepts whatever payment the patient's insurance company provides, while offering free service to the uninsured. Eyeglasses are provided at low cost by Penn Optical, a local optometry business.
The program screens for a variety of eye diseases, such as cataract and glaucoma.
"Sight N Soul reflects Wilmer's awareness that effective medical care increasingly depends on programs that detect treatable health problems before they become complicated and expensive," says Harry Quigley, M.D., director of Wilmer's Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology. "This is an effective way to prevent blindness in many individuals with treatable disease. It's also a national model for this type of community involvement."
Initial funding for the program was provided through a five-year, $500,000 grant from the Hoffberger Foundation for the Prevention of Blindness, which permitted the program to expand throughout both east and north Baltimore. Following this initial success, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded a grant of $480,000 over 48 months.
The program was begun after a study of 5,000 adults in Baltimore's inner city communities by the Dana Center found high rates of visual impairment and treatable and preventable blindness. In addition, the problem was particularly acute among the poor and African-Americans. For example, although the blinding disease called glaucoma is widespread among African-Americans in Baltimore, this group undergoes surgery for this condition at half the rate as the rest of the community, according to the study.