Wilmington residents receive free eye care

Mayor Mike Purzycki toured a free eye care event in Wilmington. 
(Zoe Read/WHYY)

Mayor Mike Purzycki toured a free eye care event in Wilmington. (Zoe Read/WHYY)

Dozens of Wilmington residents in need of eye care lined up to receive free exams and glasses outside the William “Hicks” Anderson Community Center Wednesday.

During the two-day event, VSP Global Eyes of Hope — in partnership with Simon Eye Associates and the mayor’s office — provided no-cost eye exams and, if prescribed, eyeglasses to individuals without vision insurance.

“You see the look on peoples’ faces after they put their glasses on. It’s something too many of us take for granted, just like everything else in this world,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki. “But for people who don’t have it, it’s more than a blessing.”

VSP, an eye health management company that sells insurance to employers, began its charity Eyes of Hope after Hurricane Katrina. Its main purpose is to visit disaster areas and help doctors whose offices have been destroyed. The group also travels across the United States to provide eye-care services at no charge.

“The people in the community do not have the funds to pay for glasses, and it makes such a difference in their life because they can go to work, they can fill out job applications, children can see the school board. So it really improves the lives of the people we’re seeing,” said Lori Fanning, mobile clinics operations manager for VSP.

Simon Eye Associates worked with VSP at a similar event in Pennsylvania a couple years ago and wanted to facilitate a visit in Delaware. Organizers were not aware of any similar event in the state.

Eye exams are comprehensive, and patients are checked for health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure.

Glasses are provided by VSP, which also makes glasses in a mobile clinic. Some progressive lenses will be distributed in a few weeks.

To qualify, participants must have no vision insurance and be within 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Eye exams typically cost about $100, and glasses usually run around $250 without insurance.

“Not everybody has access to high-quality vision care, has the means to do glasses. With insurance these days, a lot of people don’t have coverage for those types of services, especially adult patients,” said Matthew Schaedler, an optometrist with Simon Eye.

“A lot of people don’t have the vision they need to do the things they need to do, much less protect their eyes from the possibility of undetected eye diseases that can go flying under the radar for a long time before they’re diagnosed,” he continued.

By that time, he said, it could be too late to reverse the problem.

More than 80 individuals of all ages signed up for appointments in Wilmington, and organizers are expecting about 50 walk-ins per day.

Attendant Robin Brown, who works at the Hicks center, said she needs glasses, but she doesn’t have vision insurance and cannot afford to pay out of pocket.

“I just take care of the necessities. If I can get through buying readers from the dollar store, that’s how I’ve been maintaining,” she said.

On her way in to have her eyes tested Wednesday, Brown said she was grateful for the opportunity to have prescription lenses.

“I love it, I’ve just been thanking God all day,” she said. “This is a blessing for all of us.”

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