Over the course of two full days on March 24 and 25, residents of Chester, Pa. received comprehensive eye exams and eyeglasses—many of whom would not otherwise be able to afford these essential services. At a 33 percent poverty level, Chester is one of the most financially stressed communities in the state. Furthermore, in a city of more than 34,000 residents, the city has just a single eye doctor’s office.
During this inaugural event, Salus University Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO)
faculty and student volunteers provided comprehensive care to over 90 adults and children along with assistance support from VSP Global® Eyes of Hope®
. VSP® also distributed an additional 69 gift certificates that can be used for eye care services and eyeglasses at any VSP network doctor’s office.
The University and VSP have joined forces in an effort to close the gap in eye and vision health disparities by increasing access to high-quality vision care services and eyewear. VSP has made a significant commitment to the University’s community outreach programs through a generous donation of portable ophthalmic equipment and a mobile van. This donation will help ensure that the University can continue to provide vision care services to underserved children and families. For its part, the University has committed to providing multiple vision care events in the city of Chester and their public schools over the next several years, with eyewear to be supplied by VSP.
Many residents who received care at the March event reported they never had an eye exam before, according to Salus PCO student volunteer Manpreet Ghuman ‘17OD. Patient Cecilia Pleasant found the hardest part about not having glasses was not being able to see directions or recipe instructions clearly. Ms. Pleasant and many others were aware their vision had decreased over time and many had not had a vision exam in several years. Manpreet spent her day providing prescriptions for patients, and said she had amazing experiences—especially as those she treated responded to the clarity that new glasses provided.
In addition to providing new glasses, Salus PCO fourth year student Emily Weaver stressed the importance of a thorough assessment of both the internal and external ocular health of each patient. “There are a lot of different eye conditions that can go unnoticed because they don’t have signs or symptoms, but if undiagnosed and not treated they can be devastating to vision,” she said.
According to Emily, providing care to a community in need is often the only time residents become aware of a bigger issue. “A lot of times we [as optometrists or optometry students] are the first people to tell them that they have glaucoma or diabetes and that it’s more out of control than they expected it to be,” she said.
Salus PCO student volunteer Courtney Goode ‘17OD has been aware of the need for adequate health and vision care resources in Chester for some time because of a personal connection to the city. Her grandfather was a pastor at a local church many years ago. “It was great to be able to give back to a community and people that really need and appreciate our services,” Courtney said. “It was helpful to provide free full exams to patients and offer a pair of free glasses as opposed to just providing a vision screening. We did more than just offer patient information—we provided a solution.”
Salus PCO faculty member volunteer Bisant Labib, OD ’14, agreed and felt the event was important for several reasons. “We were able to not only assist the patients in corrective lenses and materials for visual clarity, but also in screening the health of their eyes to prevent complications that may lead to irreversible vision loss or indicate underlying health problems,” she said.
Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland stopped by on Friday, March 24 to lend his support. The mayor also received an exam at the event. He stressed the importance of the care Salus and VSP have been providing. According to Kirkland, citizens without insurance now have an expectation that they can receive these essential services through this program. “People weren’t receiving the care they needed and the testing that’s taking place is the best,” he said. The mayor is excited for the future—“I hope we expand and that everybody in this community can have access to vision care.”
According to Dr. Labib, the event reminded all volunteers—faculty, students and residents—that their profession exists as a service to others. “We often get involved with schooling and work and forget that our primary goal as optometrists and future optometrists, like any health profession, is to help others receive the care they need,” she said. “This program was the perfect reminder.”
After a busy two days, Salus University community members who volunteered their time in Chester left the event feeling extremely rewarded. “The Chester citizens were extremely warm and gracious for our help,” said Dr. Labib. “It is such a small, tight-knit community and they were thankful for our willingness to provide them with the help they needed.”
VSP, VSP Global, and Eyes of Hope are registered trademarks of Vision Service Plan.