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NECO Hosts Inaugural Vision Health Equity Summit

NECO and community partners share the recent breakthroughs that are changing the way people see health equity.




NECO Hosts Inaugural Vision Health Equity Summit
Panelists with Dr. Michael Curry, Dr. Gary Chu, Dr. Amy Roan Moy, and Dr. Howard Purcell. PHOTOGRAPHY: NECO

(PRESS RELEASE) BOSTON, MA — The New England College of Optometry (NECO) welcomed renown experts in health equity, public health, and the eye care industry to their Beacon Street campus for the inaugural Vision Health Equity Summit. The event was an opportunity to hear from health equity advocates about the pressing issues of vision health, how vision loss creates disabilities resulting in further societal inequities, and how to create pathways to a more equitable future. Dr. Howard Purcell, NECO president & CEO, thanked attendees for joining the effort to raise awareness and impact policies that address vision health equity. “Vision is critical to our lives and well-being. It is a key-driver of equity, not just health equity.” 

Core to the discussions was the overwhelming need for healthcare providers across all areas of practice to understand the tragic impact that poor vision health has on patients and their quality of life. As healthcare costs rise and insurance coverage becomes increasingly complex, vision health is often left out of policy discussions and reforms. Speakers made it clear that things must change. 

Dr. Gary Chu, NECO vice president of Professional Affairs, reminded attendees that helping people see is not just about physical sight. “I’ve learned to see through the lens of students, patients, friends, and through my life experience as a Chinese Canadian American.” Dr. Chu urged attendees to see, with their mind’s eye, beyond themselves to better serve their patients, constituents, and communities.

Dr. Diane Russo shared data on vision disparities across populations, avoidable and unavoidable vision loss, blindness, and the impact of access to care on vision impairment and quality of life. From children struggling in school to adults unable to meet expectations at work, individuals dealing with avoidable vision loss experience struggles throughout their lives. 

Dr. Amy Moy dove deeper into barriers of care and how patients struggle to navigate the complex process of accessing treatment. While insurance and vision coverage are major barriers, eye care deserts pose an even larger barrier for individuals living in central and western Massachusetts and across the US. Due to the complexity of vision coverage, low reimbursements, and how optometrists are represented in medical billing, many clinics do not see eye care as a viable service to offer their patients on state and federally-funded health insurance. 

Myopia, its increasing prevalence, and treatment costs make it a perfect condition to highlight the issues and importance of vision health equity. Dr. Fuensata Vera-Diaz discussed the need for research and access to treatments to keep up with the number of individuals affected by myopia. “There is clear evidence of a myopia epidemic, making it the most significant vision threat of the century,” reveals Dr. Vera-Diaz per the World Health Organization. “With high myopia already being the leading cause of visual impairments in working adults, we are seeing how myopia in children negatively affects them throughout their lives.” 


Due to the lack of public awareness and medical knowledge of myopia, people with avoidable vision loss are often unaware treatment options are available. For the individuals and families who are aware of and seek treatments, most are met with daunting medical bills and long wait times. Treatments are often not covered by insurance and need consistent application over many years making access cost prohibitive.

The Summit featured a special announcement from CooperVision Vice President of Professional & Government Affairs, Dr. Michele Andrews. Dr. Andrews unveiled a pilot initiative to make myopia management more accessible to under-resourced children, beginning in Massachusetts and Chicago. CooperVision is partnering with NECO, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), and the Illinois College of Optometry to offer FDA approved MiSight 1-day soft contact lenses and Paragon CRT orthokeratology contact lenses at no cost for as long as participating children require myopia management, starting in 2024. “All children deserve accessible, quality eye care to protect their future eye health. We are leading the conversation to identify long-term solutions to overcome access inequity for kids with myopia,” said Dr. Andrews. ”Hand-in-hand with academic partners who share our vision, this initiative represents a major advancement in addressing the childhood myopia epidemic.” The program was met with resounding applause.

Following the announcement by event sponsor CooperVision, Michael Curry led a panel discussion that included Monica Vohra, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Dot House Health; Julie Le, OD, Chief of Eye Care Services at Lowell Community Health Center Eye Clinic; Christine Barber, Massachusetts State Representative for the 34th Middlesex; and Amie Shei, PhD, President and CEO of Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts.

NECO Hosts Inaugural Vision Health Equity Summit

Panelists from around Massachusetts share their experience and stories of working with patients seeking eye care.

Even panelists experienced reminders of their own reasons for committing to address vision health equity. Dr. Vorha recalled her experience as a high myope and how her vision impairment impacted her learning because, if you can’t see, you can’t learn. Representative Barber recalled her early need for vision correction, how it impacted her life, and why she is a vision health advocate. Dr. Le shared a story about a high myope parent of a patient with myopia telling her that he thought he may not have spent time in prison if he’d had vision intervention. Dr. Shei shared the impact she has seen due to lack of access in Southbridge, MA following the closing of American Optical and how children just can’t get care due to the physical lack of access.

This event created connections among individuals who can make change happen. Attendees included representatives from the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, Boston Public Schools, Haverhill Public Schools, US Department of Transportation, Disability Policy Consortium, MassHealth, VSP, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Community Health Clinics, and statisticians, among many others, including NECO faculty and students.


NECO will continue to host Vision Health Equity conversations to lead policy makers to see vision health as a critical component of overall health by telling more personal stories that increase understanding of the issues that affect the people behind the data. We will Change the Way People See the World, including Vision Health Equity.

About NECO

New England College of Optometry is a private, nonprofit, and internationally recognized optometry school. We prepare the next generation of eye care providers, educators, and innovators through rigorous curriculum, extensive clinical experiences, state-of-the-art facilities, and a strong support network. As an independent optometry school, we focus solely on optometry. Founded in 1894, NECO is the oldest continuously operating optometry school in the U.S. and has been advancing optometric education ever since.


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