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Teaming Up To Address Pittsburgh’s Unmet Eye Care Needs

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Brother’s Brother Foundation announced a new partnership last week that will provide free eye care to undeserved communities in Pittsburgh. As part of a new collaboration with local healthcare organizations to eliminate physical and financial barriers to healthcare access in Pittsburgh, BBF donated a mobile eye van to UPMC.

BBF presented the van to UPMC during an event outside UPMC Mercy Hospital on March 1. Equipped with an exam chair, a phoropter, and other ophthalmology equipment, the mobile eye van will allow doctors to travel to communities where they can treat patients on-site. The event marks the start of a collaboration between BBF, UPMC, the Eye and Ear Foundation, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to address Pittsburgh’s unmet needs for eyecare.

“For Brother’s Brother Foundation to do this, we can’t thank you enough, but also we can’t express how special this is and how much it will make an impact here in the Pittsburgh community.” Lawton Snyder, CEO of the Eye and Ear Foundation, said.

The van will support and expand the community healthcare services already being provided Guerilla Eye Service (GES), a group of eye doctors and medical students who travel to underserved areas three times a month. Prior to receiving the mobile health clinic, GES transported eye equipment in a 2006 minivan and relied on local facilities for a place to provide care. By operating their mobile clinic from a van, GES can provide care to remote and often overlooked communities, such as homeless encampments.

The mobile eye van’s first clinic, scheduled for March 22nd, will provide eye care to Pittsburgh’s homeless population at a location that has yet to be determined. GES will work alongside Dr. James Miller and Dr. James Withers, who lead street medicine programs at Allegheny Health Network and UPMC, respectively.

“I see this as an opportunity for both big healthcare systems in our city to cooperate, and I see that happening already,” BBF President Ozzy Samad said.

Data pulled from several studies estimate between 30% and 50% of those who are homeless have an eye condition that needs treatment. Dr. Evan Waxman, founder and leader of Guerilla Eye Service and the Director of UPMC’s Eye Center, says eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma are best treated when caught early. In some cases, early intervention means the difference between being able to see and having irreversible vision loss. For people struggling to access food and shelter, addressing these health problems often ranks low in priority. “When you’re trying to overcome food security and housing security issues, trying to get back on your feet, get a job – you need to be able to see,” Waxman said.

Waxman, who began Guerilla Eye Service in 2005, has sought access to a mobile health van for several years. The project almost came to fruition during the pandemic but fell through due to compliance issues. The mobile eye clinic donated by BBF is one of two mobile clinics the organization has implemented to address healthcare needs of underserved communities. Following a series of tornadoes in Kentucky in 2021, BBF partnered with KentuckyCare to fund a mobile health clinic in rural areas. The mobile health van will also provide emergency responses in the aftermath of future disasters. ImageImage

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