Seeing — and filling — a need
The Red Wing CARE Clinic will begin offering eye care every two months starting November, giving uninsured and low-income county residents the opportunity to get exams and glasses they could not otherwise afford.
Dr. Jeff Ketcham, who practices ophthalmology at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing, will be volunteering his time to administer the eye exams.
Ketcham, who provided general care services at CARE Clinic previously, said it was evident early in the organization’s development that there was a need for low-income specialty services like eye care in the county.
“Because people who come here don’t have the financial means to afford an eye exam,” he said, “and often they need that.”
Over the past several months, the clinic collected enough donated equipment to perform vision checks and dilated eye exams.
Volunteer technician Mark Terry will use a donated set of refractive lenses to write prescriptions as well.
“It’s a little old-school, but it will work,” Clinical Director Julie Malyon said.
However, eye exams are only part of the equation; a new prescription won’t do much good if a person is unable to also afford frames and lenses.
“We got the idea that maybe we could partner with optical shops and optometrists in town to see if we could help these people who are really in great need,” Ketcham said. “So here we are.”
Five local optical shops have so far agreed to partner with CARE Clinic to provide complete eyeglasses to qualifying patients free of charge.
They are: Pearl Vision in Red Wing; Midwest Vision Centers in Red Wing; Struss Optical in Red Wing; Ackerman Total Eye Care in Lake City; and Optical Services at Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing.
Additional partnerships with shops in other parts of the county are in the works.
To receive an eye exam at CARE Clinic, patients will first meet with a resource coordinator to determine insurance eligibility and identify any additional health concerns, Malyon said. Once the patient is found to be eligible for assistance and in need of glasses, the clinic will issue a voucher good at one of the five participating optical shops.
The free glasses will be limited to a selection of frames and lens types, modeled after similar guidelines by South County Health Alliance, a county-based health plan of which Goodhue County is a member.
Vouchers are good for up to a month from the date of the exam.
To qualify for care, patients must be uninsured, have income at or below 275 percent of the federal poverty line and be residents of Goodhue County or Lake City, according to the CARE Clinic website.
The clinic saw more than 1,400 patients last year, many of them children or unemployed.
But the largest single group using the clinic is the “working poor,” Malyon said — those people who have jobs, but cannot afford insurance on their own and do not receive it through an employer.
CARE Clinic offers acute and chronic medical care, as well as education and support services for diabetes and mental health.
It is not exactly clear how many patients will use the new eye care services, but as many as 25 percent of the clinic’s past patients have indicated they have some sort of vision difficulty, Malyon said.
The first six openings for the inaugural eye exam night have already been filled, she added.
CARE Clinic also wrote its first lens prescription last month, helping to get glasses for a student at a nearby elementary school.
CARE Clinic is open 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays at 1407 W. Fourth St.
For more information on eye exams and other services CARE Clinic offers, call 651-388-1022 or visit www.careclinicre.com.