UM System community engagement grant provides needed refresh for Mobile Eye Center

Mobile Eye Unit

A University of Missouri System community engagement grant funded a new generator and bus wrap for the College of Optometry Mobile Eye Center, helping it continue to serve area school districts with vision screenings and eye exams. Interactive Graphic Designer Janice White designed the MEC’s new wrap, which Schneider Graphics printed. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Cassidy Cooley was in the second grade when vision screeners came to her school and identified her and her sister as “blind little bats.”

“My mom didn’t realize anything was wrong,” she said. “Then she got our vision screening reports back and could not believe that neither one of us could see the chalkboard. We’re perfect examples of early intervention really helping to change someone’s life.”

That early experience with the importance of vision screenings and exams jibes well with the credentialing and compliance specialist’s role coordinating mobile vision services for the College of Optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Those services – otherwise known as the Mobile Eye Center – have gotten a bit snazzier this year thanks to a $20,000 community engagement grant from the University of Missouri System Office of Engagement and Outreach. The funds allowed the College of Optometry to get a much-needed upgrade to the MEC’s generator and install a new bus wrap designed by Interactive Graphic Designer Janice White and printed by Schneider Graphics.

The refresh has ensured that the MEC will continue to reach thousands of patients in St. Louis area schools while better visually representing the college and university as the unit travels through the area.

“Of all of our outreach in the St. Louis area, the Mobile Eye Center has the most significant impact in the school districts,” Cooley said. “Our students also engage in different types of community work. We have externships with Affinia, with Family Care Health Center, BJK Peoples and more. We also work with veterans, send our eye unit to CASA and have various rotations that take place throughout the world and in underserved areas. Our community engagement has a global effect, but the Mobil Eye Unit is the most immediate interaction that we have with the community.”

College of Optometry Dean Larry Davis and Associate Professor Emeritus Ralph Garzia launched the mobile unit in 2004. The retrofitted 2003 Winnebago has three exam lanes and a dispensary on board. It is available to school districts within a 30-mile radius of the university, including the Normandy Schools Collaborative, the Riverview Garden School District and St. Louis Public Schools.Mobile Eye Unit

Third- and fourth-year optometry students gain valuable experience and clinical hours by performing vision screenings and eye exams under the supervision of Associate Clinical Professor Linda Marks and Assistant Clinical Professor Linda Du. Assistant Director of Clinical Operations Angel Forsha and Cooley coordinate those efforts.

The MEC does vision screenings, where the optometry students and faculty visit schools to screen entire classes for possible vision problems at no cost at the discretion of the school nurse. Students identified through that process are recommended to undergo a full dilated eye exam during a separate visit at a later date.

Cooley works with school nurses, social workers and counselors who reach out to parents to get consent forms and with insurance companies to cover the exam. For uninsured students, there are vouchers programs, one of which – Indigent Eye Care – is funded internally by donations from faculty, students and staff.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, the MEC performed 3,422 vision screenings and 433 eye exams and prescribed 301 pairs of eyeglasses. In doing so, the MEC helped ensure that students, like Cooley herself, are able to see to learn while sometimes identifying visual processing problems or learning disabilities along the way.

“There’s a great lack of understanding as to the importance of early intervention and the importance of a yearly eye exam and of regular vision screenings at the schools,” Cooley said. “A lot of children are being told that they have reading issues or reading difficulties. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting their eyes checked and getting them the pair of glasses that they didn’t realize they needed. I always tell my school nurses that if you can’t see, you can’t read, you can’t succeed.

“It’s also an important part of our pediatric rotation, so that our UMSL students can not only get community experience, but they can also get more experience with kids in that age range demographic. It’s a full clinic, just like we have here in the brick and mortar locations.”

That’s where the importance of the new generator – which powers every piece of equipment – comes in. In recent years, its aging predecessor sometimes kept the MEC from get moving when it was supposed to.

While the generator is all about what’s inside the MEC, the new bus wrap tells its story to the public. White originally started imagining a redesign in 2017 but didn’t have the funds to implement it until this year.

White wanted her design to be welcoming to the MEC’s young patients while representing UMSL and the College of Optometry to the public. She placed the college’s logo on each side of the mobile unit for better visibility alongside UMSL Eye Care’s tagline: “Compassionate care, expertise you can trust.”

She then chose photos that would represent the MEC patients’ diversity, making sure to place them where a seam or door wouldn’t mar them. The design also included a QR code that scans to the UMSL Eye Care webpage.

“We wanted everybody represented and to be friendly and approachable,” White said. “I can’t wait to hear about the looks on their faces when the kids see it. I hope it makes them feel welcome, and they’re ready to hop on board and get their much-needed eye exam.”


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