No ophthalmologists practice in the Navajo Nation. But that doesn’t change the need for eye care for its 200,000 or so residents. To help meet that need, providers from the U’s John A. Moran Eye Center Global Outreach Division have been visiting the nation since 2013 to set up screening clinics and offer free care for children and adults. Now, thanks to a $4,000 grant, Moran will begin training existing health care workers in the Navajo Nation provider network to become certified ophthalmic assistants (COAs).
Navajo Nation-based COAs will ultimately have the skills needed to take patients’ histories, perform vision screenings, check eye alignment, and measure patients for glasses ahead of Moran’s outreach visits to the Four Corners region. Their frontline work will give Moran physicians more time to address urgent issues and perform surgeries.
“Once the COAs earn their certifications, we have existing funding to bring them to Moran for further training,” says Craig Chaya, outreach co-medical director. “We’re building a bridge to more local, sustainable, hands-on training.”
Moran physicians, nurses, and medical personnel have volunteered their time in more than 25 countries. In each location, they train local ophthalmologists and health care workers in order to increase access to eye care. In Utah, they provide the same volunteer-based, charitable eye care to several underserved populations, including the Navajo Nation. The division’s work is funded solely by charitable donations.
In a typical year, Moran’s outreach team provides about 1,000 sight-restoring surgeries, 5,000 eye exams, and 2,000 free pairs of eyeglasses while training 30 international physicians and nurses; in all, some 120 volunteers perform 12,500 service hours.