Fishkind, Bakewell, Maltzman, & Hunter Eye Care and Surgery Center in Tucson, Arizona, has always been community oriented, with a long history of charitable surgeries.
So when Brock K. Bakewell, MD, FACS, brought the idea of participating in the ASCRS Foundation’s Operation Sight program to practice administrator Lydia Lansberry and her team, the practice jumped onboard. They saw it as yet another way to give back and contribute on the national level to reducing preventable blindness.
The practice decided to use the 2017 National Sight Week initiative to launch this effort. National Sight Week is a celebration of volunteerism, during which members of the Operation Sight network are encouraged to contribute one or more charitable cataract surgeries in their own communities. As the ASCRS Foundation’s domestic charitable cataract surgery program, Operation Sight’s mission is to assist uninsured patients who can’t obtain cataract care on their own.
ASCRS Foundation staff sat down with Lansberry to discuss what went into becoming an Operation Sight partner and launching a successful year-round charitable surgery effort.
Foundation Staff: Tell us a bit about your inaugural National Sight Week participation.
Lansberry: For National Sight Week, we worked with Operation Sight program manager, Evelyn Morales, and local nonprofits to gather patients so that each of our surgeons had at least one charitable case that week. We also [trained] staff prior to the event on how to process these patients, who were not using insurances. Finally, we promoted the event on our social media and within the office.
Staff: What did you and the rest of the team find most rewarding about this program?
Lansberry: First and foremost, it is the gift of sight. Just being able to meet the needs of patients who otherwise wouldn’t be treated. Seeing their joy at getting their vision back.
Staff: Is there anything readers should know about dealing with patients who come to them through the Operation Sight program?
Lansberry: The only thing that was different [from dealing with any other patient] was educating our staff on not asking for insurance, and not pressing patients for that information. And, some patients did come from farther away―all the way from Phoenix―so we tried to be mindful of their scheduling to help reduce transportation burden. [Fishkind, Bakewell, Maltzman, & Hunter Eye Care and Surgery Center is currently the only Operation Sight volunteer practice in the entire state of Arizona. Patients from Phoenix who desperately needed eyecare were willing to travel two hours for care.—N.Z.]
Staff: Do you have any advice for other practice administrators who might want to get their practice involved in Operation Sight and/or National Sight Week?
Lansberry: I would say planning in advance is key. Whether you do just the National Sight Week, or the ongoing Operation Sight program, you need an action plan for who needs to do what. For example, who is responsible for contacting the local anesthesiologist? The vendors for donations? Local charity organizations? Press? Having a plan for divvying up these responsibilities is important.
Also, contacting the vendors took longer than we anticipated. So start the grant application for lenses even earlier than you think you need to.
We secured the donation of anesthesiology by asking more senior anesthesiologists to donate their services. They were very comfortable with doing so. And we made sure to recognize them, as well as vendors who donated goods, on our press releases, website, and social media posts.
Staff: What was the biggest hurdle to starting the program?
Lansberry: Again, I think it comes back to communication, and really having an action plan to rely on. Because when the patients first start coming in, and the excitement [begins], it can be easy to forget who needs to do what. But with each patient, the process becomes easier.
Staff: Do you think your community has been receptive to the program?
Lansberry: Yes! So much so, I thought what have we gotten ourselves into? But this just testifies to the need that is out there. I would caution administrators to be careful not to overdo outreach initially, because the community will be responsive and you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Understand what your boundaries and capabilities are, and stick to them.
Staff: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Lansberry: The staff found this very engaging. We have been trying to create more of a community connection over the last 1–2 years with things like fundraiser walks and community foodbanks. But Operation Sight lets us draw our community engagement back into the practice, and utilize our very unique skills to do even more good. It has been a boost for staff morale, seeing the surgeons do these charitable surgeries, as well as the [being able] to participate and come together as a team to usher the patient through the process.