DeWine visits Athens County to promote child healthcare initiative

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Gov. DeWine visits Athens High School to promote a major investment in children’s healthcare

By: Theo Peck-Suzuki | Report for America

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THE PLAINS, Ohio (WOUB/Report for America) — Gov. Mike DeWine visited Athens High School Monday to promote a multimillion-dollar investment in children’s healthcare in Appalachian Ohio.

The Appalachian Children’s Health Initiative will invest $64 million to build new school health clinics, establish new healthcare programming and provide workforce training throughout the region. It comes as part of the DeWine administration’s Appalachian Community Grant Program, which directs federal money from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act toward the state’s 32 Appalachian counties.

One of the many projects receiving funding through the initiative is a $575,000 mobile vision program for schools in Athens, Jackson, Washington and Ross counties. Athens optometrist Shane Foster, who helped write the grant for the program, joined DeWine to speak about the importance of eye care for children.

“Less than 20% of children who fail a school vision screening actually go on to get that comprehensive eye exam,” Foster said. “That results in about 60,000 of Ohio’s children each year that are identified as potentially having a vision issue that may impact their ability to learn, but yet there’s no follow-up on that, and there’s no diagnosis and treatment by an eye care professional.”

Athens optometrist Shane Foster speaks at Athens High School.
Athens optometrist Shane Foster said it’s important the mobile vision program utilizes local providers who can build lasting relationships with patients. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB Public Media]

Foster said a lack of transportation is one of the key factors preventing kids from getting the treatment they need. That’s why the new program sends local providers directly to schools, where they can provide comprehensive eye exams and glasses to kids who need them. Overall, the program is expected to serve 2,300 children.

“My hope is that the vision services we provide through the Appalachian Children’s Health Initiative will be a catalyst for change across the entire region,” Foster said.

DeWine said he believes once the mobile vision program is established, it can continue to operate after the grant is concluded.

“We believe that it is sustainable. It’s sustainable by insurance, it’s sustainable by Medicaid,” he said.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine smiles while delivering a speech at Athens High School.
Gov. DeWine said he believes letting local organizations design and pitch projects is what sets the Appalachian Community Grant Program apart from other efforts to bolster development in the region. [Theo Peck-Suzuki | WOUB Public Media]

Significant money is also going to other southeast Ohio counties.

Gallia County is receiving over $5 million to construct a new health center for each of its major school districts.

The city of Logan is receiving over $7 million to provide transitional housing and other services for adolescents leaving foster care.

And several Ross county school districts have plans to add wellness centers of their own.

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