Sponsored by the West Virginia University Eye Institute and supported by a $115,000 Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation grant, the clinic at 1212 N. Mildred St. is one of 13 free clinics and glaucoma centers in West Virginia participating in the program, now in its second year, said Rebecca Coakley of the WVU Eye Institute’s Appalachian Vision Outreach Program.
The program’s goal is to improve vision care to the most underserved and socioeconomically isolated populations of West Virginia, according to Vicki Shean, development director of the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic.
Coakley said a pilot study last year found that while those tested had diseases like diabetic retinopathy, cataracts or glaucoma, most just needed new glasses that they couldn’t afford.
Myers, 52, of Martinsburg, W.Va., has been coming to the clinic for four years. Her first eye exam there was Friday. She has diabetes, can’t drive, has double vision, cataracts and has to hide her eyes from sunlight.
She was given a prescription for new glasses Friday.
McLeod, 47, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., ran a financial consulting firm in Seattle until the economy turned downward, he said. He first came to the clinic last year for an ear infection.
The clinic sent him to Jefferson Memorial Hospital for tests that showed dangerously high cholesterol levels and the onset of diabetes. He came to the clinic Friday for an eye exam that showed he needs to wear glasses all the time, he said.
The free clinic normally works with four area optometrists who provide free eye exams for patients, said Michele Goldman, the clinic’s executive director.
Some patients are referred to WVU for eye surgery, she said.
In addition to Coakely, Friday’s staff treating patients included Dr. Serena A. Morrison from the Department of Ophthalmology at WVU Healthcare, two technicians, an optician and a research statistician, all from Morgantown, W.Va.
“We left Morgantown at 5 a.m. this morning,” Coakley said.
All of the 56 people tested Friday are Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic patients, Goldman said. Most are from Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, while a few were from Hampshire, Grant and Hardy counties.
The clinic treats patients who meet income limits. For example, the income for a family of four can’t exceed $33,525.
With few exceptions, most of the clinic’s patients are between the ages of 19 and 64 who lost full-time jobs with benefits, who work part time with no benefits or who, because of various circumstances, have lost or don’t have health insurance, Goldman said. “We treat those who fall through the cracks,” she said.
Free clinic officials said about 12 patients are on the waiting list for eye exams at any given time.
“Some have never had an examination, some not since elementary school and others not for years,” Goldman said.
Some patients have poor vision but are not aware of it, she said.