By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
With Christmas fast approaching, UAB’s School of Optometry wanted to give something special to the community. Last week, the school held its fifth annual UAB Eye Care Gift of Sight event at the Western Health Center in Midfield.
“Everybody’s looking for ways to help, especially around the holidays, so this is a wonderful way that we can give back,” said Caroline Pate, PhD, associate professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Optometry.
The event is held to give those who are uninsured, or have a low-income, a chance to have free comprehensive eye exams and glasses.
Janene Sims, PhD, associate professor and service director for Community Eye Care at UAB School of Optometry, said the services fill an important need.
“Some people don’t ever get [the eye care] and it’s just very important to make sure our eyes are functioning properly and are healthy . . . what’s going on in the rest of the body we can see those types of changes in the eyes,” said Sims.
During the Gift of Sight event, UAB put in measures to see as many patients as possible. In addition to doctors, all UAB students in their third year of optometry school were on hand. There were also six full exam lanes and four portable lanes.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our students to get exposed to a high volume of patients, different demographic of patients, and lots of ocular disease,” said Pate.
Sims added that the hands-on experience is valuable.
“For example, this morning a patient was seen that had a possible retinal detachment that was referred out,” Pate said, “so again just coming in because they didn’t have glasses, or they broke their glasses — and then something bigger gets detected.”
Pate, who works in the ocular disease department at UAB, said a fair amount of her patients come from events like the one held last week.
In addition, she’s seen people who wouldn’t be in her care if not for events like this one, Pate said.
Janice Clark, a first time patient, said the event was a blessing.
“The people here are so nice, they are real nice,” said Clarke. “The timing is great. I had an appointment at 1 o’clock, and about 5 or 10 min. after 1 I was being seen by the doctor.”
UAB’s School of Optometry has partnered with one of its sponsors, Vision Service Plan (VSP).
“It’s one of the insurances that we have at UAB so we’re very familiar with it because a lot of our patients from UAB have the insurance, but they provide the vouchers which cover the eye exam, and the glasses and lens,” said Sims.
With VSP providing glasses more people were served because some have insurance to cover eye exams, but not the glasses. In fact, there were two tables with a variety of glasses. The doctors and students would fit the patients for glasses and send the orders to VSP which would make the glasses for each patient.
“We’ve seen patients actually cry….they’re not just any glasses, these are designer glasses so that’s like ‘oh my goodness these are Calvin Klein,’” said Sims. “It just makes you feel a little bit better. It’s not that they’re just giving you anything; they’re giving you top quality, so it really makes people feel good when you know you can get the best.”
The partnership with VSP also included vouchers where patients could get service during the year.
Last week, the UAB Eye Care team was back at work providing care for people in the Jimmie Hale, Firehouse, Lovelady, and Foundry shelters.