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Bridging Great Health Divide: Free eye care clinic helps combat disparities in access to health care

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 5:31 PM EDT
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CLARKSBURG, W.Va (WDTV) - WVU Eye Institute teamed up with Health Access to hold its annual free eye care clinic in Clarksburg.

The two-day clinic is critical to low income communities. They accept patients who are uninsured and those with Medicaid. The clinic provides patients in Harrison and Doddridge County with an eye exam and glasses if needed. The exam is free and if you do need glasses, it’s only $20-$50 depending on the patient’s income level. The clinic’s primary funding comes from the Benedum Foundation and the doctors volunteer their time. It’s a huge help to patients like James Merritt who can’t afford standard medical care, but make just too much to not qualify for Medicaid. James said, “a few years ago we got into a situation where we had no health insurance, we didn’t qualify for a medical card because we were just a little bit over the border.”

Practice Manager of Health Access Josh Brown says that when it comes to Medicaid, there tends to be coverage gaps at most clinics that don’t allow those patients access to vision care. “I like to tell folks that our clinic is really the community’s response to the plight of the uninsured. Where a lot of these other federally funded health centers and rural health clinics, they get federal funding and some other dollars coming into the clinic. Ours are primarily community supported,” Brown said.

WVU Ophthalmologist Dr. Charles Moore a West Virginia native and wants to help those in the community who need it the most. He says their goal is to reach out to those who are geographically and economically isolated. “I love the people of West Virginia, and I’ve been aware for some time that there is a lot of medical disparity that people who cannot get to an eyecare doctor or can’t afford an eye care doctor.” Dr. Moore recommends getting an eye exam every two years.

WVU Director of Outreach at the Appalachian Vision Outreach Program Rebecca Coakley describes just how important clinics like these are her patients. “I can tell you that some patients come in and they drive into the clinic and they’re legally blind because they just can’t afford a pair of glasses. So it’s more than just health care, it is community safety.”

William Jenkins is one of the nearly 200 patients who went to the clinic to get an eye exam. He has a bad eye and can’t see out of it and says that without this clinic, he wouldn’t have any other way to get his eyes examined. He said, “I’m very grateful they bring this to people around here. People around here need it a lot … there’s a lot of people out there that need glasses that can’t afford them and they don’t get them … they go running around and they can’t see.”

The clinic is available to anyone of all ages and economic levels. Health access and WVU Eye Institute holds this two-day clinic in Clarksburg once every year.

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