Created by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the largest national membership association of ophthalmologists, and sponsored in part by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc., the National Eye Care Project (NECP) provides medical eye care for financially disadvantaged senior citizens.
The NECP began in 1983, as a pilot program which was hailed by former President Ronald Reagan as "volunteerism at its finest." Since then, the NECP's toll-free helpline has received more than 527,000 calls. More than 198,000 of those callers were referred to one of 7,500 volunteer ophthalmologists nationwide for an eye exam and any necessary treatment. Participants' insurance or Medicare is billed for the care; however, for those without the means to pay, fees are waived.
The need for this program was clear to the American Academy of Ophthalmology: by age 65, one in three Americans are afflicted with some form of vision-threatening eye disease and many people suffer needlessly from conditions that are treatable or curable. Some older Americans do not know that they are at risk for eye problems, while others do not have access to a medical eye doctor or lack the resources to pay for an exam or treatment.
While there are a number of programs that provide optical assistance, the NECP is unique in that it provides medical eye care for financially disadvantaged seniors.
Not only do qualified seniors benefit from quality eye care, but the members of the Academy who volunteer for the program enjoy the satisfaction of having contributed their compassion and skills to an important cause. Every ophthalmologist who becomes a member of the Academy is encouraged to participate in the NECP and new volunteers are actively recruited from long-standing members.
For 15 years, the NECP has provided services that may have been otherwise unavailable to the people who are helped. Whether a patient is cured of cataracts through surgery or requires ongoing care for glaucoma, NECP patients receive the same quality care that volunteer ophthalmologists provide to their traditional patients.
"We measure our success not just by the numbers of people we have helped, but also by the words of the people who are served — and whose eyesight is saved — by the NECP," remarked Gail Nyman-York, Manager, Public Service, American Academy of Ophthalmology.