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published on December 23, 2016 - 2:32 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
While making general health care accessible to all has been a focal point for the most recent federal administration, bringing specialty health services like optometry to underserved communities has not been the priority.

 

Senator Andy Vidak, however, has made it his mission to help ensure those in the rural parts of California Senate District 14 have access to eye care through ‘Mobile Eyes’ clinics.

For the past three years, Vidak has joined forces with Vision Service Plan (VSP), the California Optometric Association, Adventist Health, the Kings County Action Organization (KCAO) and the Tulare County Office of Education to bring mobile eye care clinic Mobile Eyes to Central Valley cities like Lindsay, Hanford and McFarland.

“I represent one of the most impoverished districts in the state and nation,” Vidak said. “On the day I was sworn into office, it was brought to my attention that VSP has this extraordinary program to bring the gift of clear sight to underserved communities, but that Mobile Eyes hadn’t been brought yet to the Central Valley. We reached out to VSP and helped bring the first-ever Mobile Eyes clinics to Senate District 14 in 2014.”

On Dec. 6, Mobile Eyes made its way to Avenal, and two days later the clinic on wheels was serving patients in Dinuba. Combined, the two visits resulted in 80 patients receiving free eye exams. A majority of patients received free glasses as well. An additional 200 patients who couldn’t be seen those days due to time constraints were given vouchers to receive a free eye exam from a local optometrist.

The 2016 Mobile Eyes venture was the best to date in the Valley. In 2014, Mobile Eyes conducted 57 free eye exams and provided 80 vouchers to patients in Fresno and McFarland. In 2015, Mobile Eyes served nearly 80 patients in Hanford and Lindsay, and provided 200 vouchers.

Vidak said success can be seen in more than just the numbers, but in the individuals who can now see clearly for the first time in years, or, for some, the first time ever.

“Some of the people coming to the mobile eye clinic have never been to an eye doctor before and haven’t had the ability to purchase glasses for their children or themselves,” Vidak said. “Getting a pair of glasses for the first time can be life changing.”

Dr. Jeffrey Garcia, an optometrist whose private practice is based in Lemoore, donated his time to provide eye exams to patients visiting Mobile Eyes in Avenal and Dinuba. Garcia said Mobile Eyes not only meets the needs of those in smaller communities who have trouble seeing, but that the free exams can lead to discoveries of other conditions patients weren’t aware of.

“A lot of people who come need glasses, but getting a routine eye exam is also important for eye health,” Garcia said. “The eyes provide a window into someone’s general health and can indicate signs of diabetes, bad cholesterol or high blood pressure. Optometrists are the gateway providers for a lot of people who don’t have a doctor they visit on a regular basis. They go visit the optometrist because they are having trouble reading and need glasses, but from there they may find out they have diabetes and that starts the process of them getting help for that.”

Garcia said it’s not uncommon for him to refer patients in his private practice to other doctors, whether it’s an eye surgeon to address someone’s cataract or a primary care physician to address someone’s diabetes or high blood pressure. These referrals, however, happen once in a while. At the Mobile Eyes clinics, Garcia said he referred 20 percent of patients to other doctors and specialists.

“It is unusual for me to refer such a high percentage of patients,” Garcia said. “All the people came because they had vision complaints, and for many of them this was their first eye exam or the first exam they had in multiple years, but several walked away with more than just a pair of glasses.”

For Garcia, this signifies how great the need is for eye care and healthcare in general in small rural communities.

“It’s difficult for many people in these areas to get the eye care they need,” Garcia said. “Most have no insurance or the insurance they have doesn’t cover eye care, MediCal for example doesn’t cover it, so this is a high-risk population.”

Vidak said he is glad VSP and its partners were able to help some of the people in this population in his district.

“I’m thrilled that this is Team Vidak’s third year to host Mobile eyes in the Valley,” Vidak said. “We are so grateful to VSP for providing this vital service and can’t thank our local nonprofit partners and optometrist volunteers enough for the many, many hours it takes to bring free eye exams and glasses to folks who can’t afford them.”


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