The Washington Post

Eye care, a neglected problem among D.C.’s poor, is focus of new program

For many people in Washington, helping the city’s most vulnerable means providing food, extra clothing or secondhand personal items.

Rosaline Siaw checks out her new and free pair of spectacles that she receives courtesy of Prevention of Blindness Society at the Bread for the City in Washington, D.C. on March 8, 2012. (Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST)

So she started a mobile eye service program last year to assist social services agencies in offering eye services to their clients. It’s a partnership with Bread for the City, an agency that has helped District residents since 1974.

“There just seem to be so many patients without insurance,” Gasch said. “It’s so difficult for a person to function in the community just without eyeglasses. It’s hard to get around, read, get a job and drive.”

When patients in need of eye care don’t have insurance or have an insurance plan that doesn’t cover it, Bread for the City refers them to the Gasch’s clinic. The program helps such varying patients as diabetics requiring an annual eye exam and people in need of glasses.

“There are a number of private nonprofit clinics in the D.C. area that provide care to residents in need, but very few have on-site eye services,” Gasch said.

One of her clients is Brian Person, who works as a daily care provider.

Person’s job helping a mentally disabled man does not offer health care, and he said he can’t afford it on his own. But through Gasch’s program, he receives his regular eye checkups.

“Otherwise, I’d probably never get an eye exam,” Person said in an interview.

The clinic operates the first or second Thursday of each month. It is staffed by a staff member who speaks Spanish and a resident from Washington Hospital Center who conducts comprehensive eye exams. The clinic examines about 10 patients a month.

Need eyeglasses? The Prevention of Blindness Society optician provides frames. Patients can order glasses for free and pick them up. Need free follow-up care? Those with glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or retinal tears are referred to Washington Hospital Center.

“Our patients have access to social work, housing issues and get food here once a month. We work closely with them to make sure no one falls through the cracks,” says Randi Abramson, the medical clinic director for Bread for the City.

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