NECO Highlights Massachusetts’ Strength in Eye Care
Massachusetts Community Health Centers and NECO celebrate 50 years of providing eye care for all.
The New England College of Optometry (NECO), in partnership with the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, hosted a festive event celebrating 50 years of partnership with Community Health Centers on October 6 in Boston, with over 130 in-person attendees and another 89 online participants from the eye care industry, health care, media and academia to honor community members and organizations who have dedicated time and resources to strengthening eye care access for all.
The atmosphere was jovial as guests entered NECO’s Beacon Street campus. A cocktail reception brought everyone together as photos from decades past played on a loop throughout the building. Laughs and hugs were had by those in attendance from multiple community health centers and important individuals from the eye care and greater Boston communities.
In attendance were state senators and representatives; MA Senator John Keenan and wife Dr. Jeanne Hopkins, MA Representative Christine Barber, MA Representative Jay Livingstone, and MA Representative Tackey Chan. Lynn Community Health Center CEO Dr. Kiame Mahanaiah, Charles River Health CEO Liz Browne, DotHouseHealth CEO Michelle Nadow, Holyoke Health former CEO Jay Breines and current CEO Dr. Alejandro Esparza, Dimock CEO Dr. Charles Anderson, North End Waterfront Health CEO Vincenzo Scibelli, CEO of the Massachusetts Society of Optometrists Wayne Zahka, and East Boston Neighborhood Health Center CEO Greg Wilmot were all in attendance to celebrate their partnership with NECO.
In addition, Dr. Clifford Scott, Immediate Past President of NECO; Dr. David Heath, President of SUNY Optometry; Rob McCarron, President and CEO of AICU Massachusetts; Dr. James W. Hunt, Jr., former President and Chief Executive Officer of Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers; and Dr. Ansel Johnson, CEO of Healthy Living with a Vision Foundation was also present. NECO students, alumni, faculty, and staff also joined the celebration and helped to make the event a most memorable evening.
Following the reception was an awards ceremony emceed by current President and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, Dr. Michael Curry, Esq. The awards recognized the work and dedication of six NECO community members in providing eye care for all within local community health centers. The distinguished honorees were Dr. Crystal Lewandowski ’13, Dr. Meng Meng Xu, Dr. Nicole Pogue, Dr. John Pietrantonio ’80, Dr. Roger Wilson ’80, and Baljot Saini (Class of 2024).
Dr. Curry kicked off the ceremony with a powerful speech highlighting the importance of diversity in healthcare, and specifically eye care. He highlighted the importance of community health centers in addressing health disparities and social determinants of health. An important message that emerged throughout the evening, and especially during Dr. Curry’s opening remarks, is the need for greater eye care access at community health centers across the country.
“Out of the nearly 29 million patients served throughout the country, only about 3% of them are accessing eye care. The majority of that 3% is right here in Massachusetts,” shared Dr. Curry.
This number highlights the opportunity that all eye care providers have when it comes to working and treating patients within community health centers. With Massachusetts leading the way in providing eye care for all, NECO’s Director of Health Center Network and Chief Compliance Officer Dr. Amy Roan Moy ’03 provided specific examples on how organizations can attract optometrists and better educate other clinicians on the importance of eye care.
“While health center patients in Massachusetts have greater accessibility to eye care, thanks to our great partnerships, the rest of the country needs to learn about optometry’s role as an integral part of the care team. At NECO, we have something special in our inter-professional collaborations and the passionate optometric faculty and interns who go out to the community health centers to serve and care for patients,” highlights Dr. Moy at the event.
“The access and sheer number of providers is something that other health centers can replicate around the country. From loan forgiveness programs for optometrists, to emphasis on inter-professional collaboration for continuing education, health centers and organizations outside of the Commonwealth can easily broaden the depth and breadth of the whole-body care they provide to their patients.”
So why is eye care so important to a person’s overall health? Dr. Moy provided compelling answers to this question. “I tell our student interns that we can change people’s lives. This means detecting a brain tumor in a patient with new headaches, improving eye focusing capabilities in a child who has had trouble concentrating at school, and working with primary care doctors to co-manage a diabetic patient with bleeding in their eyes.”
NECO’s faculty and alumni offer this rich eye care here in Massachusetts, but the disparity in eye care is surely felt in other areas of the country. Although most attendees were already aware of this contrast, there were some in the audience that were motivated and able to share this information with a broader audience. The National Association of Community Health Centers will be sharing NECO’s story as they lead training seminars across the country for implementation of eye care in health centers.
The evening was a testament to the many years of collaboration and dedication to help communities around Massachusetts receive the latest in eye care.