Stories of Impact

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Mobile Eye Van Unveiled in Florida

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Brother’s Brother Foundation unveiled its second mobile eye van at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held at Caridad Center, a free health clinic in Palm Beach County, Florida, in early September.

Caridad Center is one of the largest free health care clinics in Florida and has more than 700 volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and dental hygienists who provide free medical care to uninsured Palm Beach County residents living at or below 200% of the federal poverty line (annual income of $29,160). The van has allowed the clinic to expand its existing eye care services to underserved communities that have difficulty accessing quality eye care.  

Laura Callus, CEO of the Caridad Center, said the clinic typically serves more than 5,000 people in the area and has 35,000 patient visits every year.

“We serve all sectors of our community that need us, from all corners of this county. For many of them, transportation is the number one barrier to access to care,” Callus said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “With the generous donation from the Brother’s Brother Foundation, we are able to provide our first mobile eye clinic here at Caridad.”

Prior to receiving the new van, Caridad Center’s eye clinic saw patients in a stationary van parked outside the building. A comprehensive array of ophthalmology equipment inside the van will allow the doctors to take the eye clinic’s services on the road.

“This is as well-equipped and capable of handling eye cases in, I imagine, pretty much any private office in the Palm Beach County area,” Dr. Louis T. Feldgoise, founder of Caridad Center’s eye clinic, said.  

Palm Beach County Commissioner Marci Woodward (left), Caridad Center CEO Laura Kallus (center) and BBF Board Member Dr. Svetlana Faktorovich (right) stand next to the new eye van donated by Brother’s Brother Foundation. | Photo courtesy of Caridad Center

Doctors can conduct routine eye exams, determine eyeglasses prescriptions and check patients for prevalent eye conditions, such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy—some of the leading causes of vision loss in the United States—all by using equipment inside the 21-foot van.

Detecting eye conditions early on is key in preventing vision loss, but, in many cases, patients don’t experience symptoms until after the condition has progressed. When patients receive regular eye exams, ophthalmologists can diagnose conditions in the early stages and intervene with treatments or surgeries that can prevent irreversible damage.

But many patients don’t receive consistent eye care.

Diabetics, for instance, are encouraged to have yearly eye exams to screen for diabetes-related issues such as diabetic retinopathy. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, early detection can prevent or delay blindness in 90% of patients with the condition, but at least 50% of these patients are not getting their eyes examined or are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.

A similar CDC statistic can be applied to the general population—of the estimated 93 million U.S. adults at high risk for vision loss, only half were examined by an eye doctor in the past 12 months.

The risks go beyond irreversible vision loss.

Studies suggest that—in addition to experiencing life-altering limitations imposed by difficulty reading and navigating—people with visual impairments are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, slowed cognitive functioning and injuries.  

The obstacles that prevent patients from having routine eye exams—a lack of health insurance, unreliable transportation, not getting time off from work—also prevent them from having longer and healthier lives.

Launched in 2022, BBF’s Mobile Health program aims to eliminate healthcare barriers in underserved communities. Vans are outfitted with specialized medical equipment and provide at-risk populations with specialized care at no cost to the patient.

Studies published on the estimated 2,000 mobile health across the United States have shown them effective in managing chronic diseases, improving self-efficacy and boosting participation in recommended screenings. They also reduce health care costs by lowering the number of visits to emergency rooms.  

Ophthalmology equipment installed inside the new eye van will allow Caridad Center’s eye clinic to extend services to underserved communities throughout Palm Beach County, FL. | Photo courtesy of Caridad Center

BBF’s first mobile clinic was donated to the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh, which supports a program that provides free eye care and diabetic retinopathy screenings to underserved communities in the Pittsburgh area.  

Ophthalmologists and medical students have used the van to host several clinics throughout the area. An elderly woman was living on the streets when she arrived at an eye clinic held in Downtown Pittsburgh in March. After being diagnosed with cataracts in both of her eyes, community health workers helped her schedule an appointment to receive surgery. One of her cataracts has already been removed; a second surgery is being scheduled.

Over the summer, two vision clinics held in Ambridge—a recovering steel town just north of Pittsburgh—distributed nearly 50 pairs of glasses to adults and children. One child was diagnosed with congenital ptosis, a drooping eye lid that can interfere with visual development and, when left untreated, lead to permanent vision loss. Doctors at the clinic spotted the condition while there was still time to intervene.  

BBF’s new mobile health van in Florida is just as needed as the one in Pittsburgh.

Despite having a “really outstanding” density of eye care providers, Feldgoise said Palm Beach County still has a lot of residents who don’t have access to eye care.  

“There’s a real need locally as well as beyond,” he said.

To donate to BBF’s Mobile Health Clinic program, visit our donation page and select “Mobile Health Clinic” in the dropdown menu.

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