CINCINNATI -- Ruby Eiland doesn't take her vision for granted. But as a retiree with a limited income, paying for exams and new glasses can be more than her budget can handle.
That's why Eiland was delighted to learn about the free eye care clinics operated by the Cincinnati Eye Institute Foundation. The clinics provide free eye exams for adults and referrals for free glasses for patients who need them.
"It feels very good that I can come down here and get help for my eyes," she said after Dr. David Brounley completed her exam at the foundation's clinic at St. Vincent de Paul of Cincinnati in the West End. "It feels good that I can see, and I can get out there and drive without worrying."
The clinic at St. Vincent de Paul is one of three that the foundation operates, and a fourth is being planned for Middletown. All the clinics are designed to serve patients who have no insurance and little or no income, said Amy Jones, the foundation's new director of community outreach and development.
"We've seen patients where they can't even see the big E on the board, and they have been like that their whole life," she said. "They're so thankful."
The foundation has seen more than 6,000 patients since 2008. About 10 percent of have had undiagnosed eye problems, such as glaucoma, cataracts or retina issues, and the foundation's volunteer doctors refer them to the University of Cincinnati's Ophthalmology Clinic for follow-up care or surgery.
Another 76 percent of those patients have needed glasses. The foundation gives patients a prescription and a referral to Lens Crafter where they can get free glasses through a partnership with OneSight Foundation.
"I know glasses seem like such a minor thing for people," Jones said. "But when we give people glasses, we give them opportunities."
Making care less complicated
The foundation regularly hears from patients whose lives have changed dramatically after getting glasses, she said.
There are the 18-year-olds who have left the foster care system and decide to go to college after getting their glasses. Other adults who have been unemployed go out and get jobs after they get the glasses they need, she said. The clinics are seeing a growing number of Hispanic patients, too, she said, and many have never had an eye exam before.
At St. Vincent de Paul, lots of older clients who use the organization's charitable pharmacy assume that failing eyesight is just part of getting older, said Larry Shields, St. Vincent de Paul's director of community relations.
But nearly half of the pharmacy's patients have diabetes, and serious eye problems can be one of the side effects of the disease, he noted.
Because the foundation's clinic is on site, St. Vincent de Paul's pharmacists can refer patients there for care.
"One of the hardest things someone living in poverty has to handle is making multiple stops along the way as they try to get help or become sustainable," he said. "We can offer those critical services under one roof and make it convenient for people who have challenges."
The St. Vincent de Paul location, which is open from 9 a.m. to noon each Thursday, is the only one of the foundation's clinics that takes walk-in patients along with seeing people by appointment.
The other locations at the Good Samaritan Free Health Center and the Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired require patients to make appointments for their exams. The number to call for an appointment is 513-878-2300.
"There are people waiting every Thursday because they know this is the day," Shields said.
Eiland was there bright and early for her exam. By 10 a.m., she had a prescription for new glasses, a referral to UC in hand and a broad smile.
"It feels wonderful," she said.
More information about the Cincinnati Eye Institute Foundation and its clinics can be found online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.