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Healthy Vision for All through a ‘Tiny Home’ Clinic

half Helen Foundation is transforming access to care by launching the region’s only mobile eye clinic, providing free exams and optical services to uninsured populations

Published May 28, 2021

Vision impairment is the single most prevalent disabling condition among children. Common conditions such as nearsightedness and astigmatism can lead to vision impairment or blindness in children if left undiagnosed or untreated. Despite this, 40% of children who fail a vision screening never receive follow-up care, with the most common reasons shared by parents being unmanageable costs and lack of transportation.

half Helen Foundation is solving both problems by bringing free vision care directly to students.

“Families in Austin face grave challenges because so many are left out of the healthcare system—optical Prime clinic is our solution. It eliminates the most common barriers to care—cost and transportation—thereby closing the access to vision care gap by bringing care to a centralized location where children are, their school.” Chelsea Elliott, Executive Director of half Helen Foundation

As the only mobile eye clinic in the greater Austin area, half Helen is on the forefront of promoting health equity through vision care for all. Their new mobile unit, optical Prime, will help scale their impact and expand their presence in the community.

Ready to Launch

The road to developing the first mobile eye clinic in Central Texas hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been in the works for a few years now while the half Helen team navigated planning bumps along the way to bring this much needed and innovative resource to our community. After years of careful research and planning, the team had made strong headway in the design and development of the mobile clinicthen COVID-19 hit, impacting both vendors and production delays, forcing the organization to change course with a new plan to bring optical Prime to life.

How could half Helen reimagine the design of a mobile clinic without significant delays or increased costs? They had to think outside of the box, and the idea came to them in an unexpected way—a reality television show.

While watching Tiny House Nation, half Helen’s Executive Director Chelsea Elliott started imagining what a mobile clinic on a ‘tiny home’ build could look like. After starting the discussion internally, the team began working with designers and builders to make their tiny home clinic a reality.

Image of the exterior of the optical Prime mobile eye clinic

half Helen initially planned to retrofit an RV modeling countless mobile clinics across the country—but optical Prime soon transformed into the first-of-its-kind tiny house on wheels that will be pulled by a Ford F350 to schools throughout the region. With incredibly generous time, expertise, and creativity from John King Construction, Chupik Designs, and HCB Health, every detail was designed to be warm, welcoming, and fun for children who may be unsure of what to expect. The clinic is outfitted with two exam lanes and over 200 glasses frames for patients to try on. And apart from being the only mobile eye clinic in Austin, half Helen now operates one of the only tiny home clinics in the nation.

Envisioning Impact

25% of children ages 5 to 17 have a vision problem. Chelsea Elliott firmly believes that every child should be treated with dignity—they should have access to care, treatment, and glasses, no matter their financial situation. “With fewer providers accepting Medicaid, we want to provide high-quality care for the kids least able to access it,” she said. optical Prime will travel to Title I schools and provide 30-40 free exams per day, impacting the lives of hundreds of children daily.

half Helen Foundation Executive Director Chelsea Elliott fitting glasses on a child

But the clinic won’t only be providing care to school-age children. “Since we’re only at the schools for part of the year, we wanted the clinic to serve a dual purpose,” said Meghan Jones, Director of Development at half Helen Foundation. While not parked at schools, half Helen is partnering with St. David’s Foundation and CommUnityCare Health Centers to provide vision care through the Community Vision Program. The proceeds from the program’s vouchers will then support long-term financial sustainability for half Helen’s pediatric program, as well as possible expansion. “Down the road, we’d love a unit for kids, a unit for adults, and a unit for communities outside of Austin,” said Jones.

Join half Helen Foundation as they celebrate their eighth birthday and officially unveil optical Prime. There are limited spots available for this ribbon cutting event that will include tours of the clinic. The celebration will take place Saturday, June 5 from 9:30 AM to 12:00 PM at half Helen’s administrative office on North Lamar Blvd. RSVP today here.

child with glasses on

All images courtesy of half Helen Foundation. Learn more about half Helen Foundation’s story