The Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) introduced Mobile Eye Clinics (MECs) in May 2013 for seniors and a year later for children. The MEC program focuses on vision treatment and prevention, and is a comprehensive initiative designed to conduct eye care examinations directly in seniors’ homes, retirement residences, long-term care homes, and to children in their schools, and thus has the ability to reach thousands of seniors and children, especially at lower-income schools across Canada.
Each MEC has the capacity to examine 2,500 students and approximately 1,250 to 1,500 seniors per year. Through various partnerships including with Bruyère Continuing Care, the Bruyère Research Institute, Ottawa Public Health, Eastern Ontario Public Health, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, CCB’s MECs have conducted over 8,000 comprehensive eye examinations. MECs bring portable eye examination equipment, a registered optometrist, and an experienced support team, including members of Lions Clubs from District A4, to each venue.
Not only does the CCB focus its efforts on supporting the existing blind and vision-impaired community, it also focuses on health promotion in order to prevent vision loss. The organization believes that the promotion of vision health is just as important as treatment.
In Canada, 80 percent of vision loss is avoidable. Vision loss is one of the major factors behind senior slips and falls, and is a recognized learning disability in children.
The results of CCB’s MEC initiative have been alarming. MEC examinations of seniors found that 56 percent were diagnosed with vision problems needing correction, with many requiring immediate intervention. Senior slips and falls cost our health care system $2 billion annually, and 30 percent are caused by vision issues. Seniors are hospitalized longer for slips and falls (averaging nine days) than for any other cause. Vision loss’ negative effect on the Canadian economy is $15.8 billion per year and that cost is expected to double by 2031.
MEC examinations of seniors found that 56% were diagnosed with vision problems needing correction, with many requiring immediate intervention.
Over 24 percent of the children examined (who averaged eight years of age) required optometric intervention or further assessment, and, in some instances, were legally blind, completely unbeknownst to their parents and teachers. Through its partners, the MEC program provides free eyewear to all children and seniors who cannot afford them.
The CCB’s research demonstrates that mobile health clinics are a cost-effective and efficient way to provide support, prevention, and treatment to communities that would otherwise go unvisited. There are currently approximately 2,000 MECs operating in North America, mostly in the U.S.
As an organization governed by the blind and those with low vision, the CCB knows intimately the effects of vision loss. To date, the CCB has incurred all costs on the project development and the initial pilot, and now wishes to expand the program across Ontario and eventually all of Canada.