College of Optometry mobilizes eye care

By sharing the same vision, the City of Houston and the College of Optometry have been able to provide eye care around the area and the students have been able to enjoy the ride along the way.

The Mobile Eye Institute has been giving eye exams and promoting proper eye care since September and is focused on providing eye care to those who do not have access to it themselves.

"It only gives students the opportunity to practice," optometry senior Matthew Rhodes said. "The drive allowed for great discussion that you can’t have in the school setting."The bus has the latest ophthalmic technology and brings needed care to patients, according to optometry adjunct professor Gavin Gerondale, who oversees the MEI.

The idea first came after Hurricane Katrina when the city saw the need to have a unit that could quickly diagnose patients on site, Gerondale said.

The MEI was bought by the city of Houston with a $300,000 donation given by an anonymous donor, he said. From there, the city purchased the mobile unit and contacted the College of Optometry with the idea.

"We recognized the impact poor vision can have on the ability of people of all ages to carry out their activities of daily living," Elena Marks, director of Health and Environmental Policy, said.

In case of an emergency similar to Katrina, the unit would go out to the disaster site for immediate diagnoses and treatment of eye problems, Gerondale said. When not involved in a disaster area, the MEI is used to examine children and the elderly, he said. The MEI is specifically concentrating on visiting elementary schools in Harris County right now, Gerondale said.

"For school children, good vision enables them to see the board in class and read and write their assignments," she said. "For seniors, it facilitates independence and enables them to enjoy newspapers, books and TV."

The plans are in the works to visit the elderly but it’s a complicated situation, Gerondale said.

"The problem with the bus and going to nursing homes is that many times these people are not ambulatory and they would have a hard time getting to the unit," he said.

The MEI also teamed up with Eye Care for Kids and provided vouchers for an exam and glasses to the children, Gerondale said.

The MEI was tested during the summer before being officially introduced to the community and since then the results have been "great," Gerondale said.

"The underserved communities are getting glasses and eye care, and the (optometry) students are seeing many types of eye diseases they don’t come into contact with in a university setting," he said.

Rhodes was one of three students this summer who worked on the bus.

"It exposed me to a different demographic," Rhodes said. "For instance, I was able to visit elementary schools and treat a number of younger children – an opportunity that typically isn’t provided at the University Eye Institute."

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