Seeing the need

Ladies of Charity host Remote Area Medical vision clinic for Knoxville-area clients

By Dan McWilliams

Determined to help their clients any way they could, the Ladies of Charity of Knoxville hosted a Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic that focused on eye care as COVID-19 prevented a dual dental clinic.

The RAM operation was held April 17 at the Ladies of Charity’s Baxter Avenue facility. It was an eye clinic with a mobile vision lab that saw 90 pairs of glasses made and services worth more than $24,000 provided to clients.

Tiffani Carrasco, clinic coordinator for Remote Area Medical, inspects a table of eyeglasses at RAM’s eye clinic at the Ladies of Charity.

“The Ladies of Charity was so pleased to host their third Remote Area Medical clinic,” said Susan Unbehaun, executive director of the Ladies of Charity of Knoxville. “The 2021 clinic took reservations for vision exams, and eyeglasses were manufactured on-site. A limited number of eyeglasses are sent out due to the complexity of the prescription. These clients will have personal fittings later.

“Ladies of Charity invited over 1,700 clients to attend the event with a personalized postcard. These clients have already been to the Ladies of Charity emergency-assistance program and have received help from the nonprofit in one of many ways. The RAM clinic continues to assist our neighbors who may struggle with the extra cost of eyeglasses, especially during this pandemic year. We had more requests for vision services than appointments for this clinic.”

Tiffani Carrasco is the clinic coordinator for RAM and was present for the vision clinic.

“We started out at about 6 a.m. in the morning. It was an appointment-only clinic,” said Ms. Carrasco, who is scheduled to start medical school this month.

“We had patients call in for probably a month, just saying, ‘I’d like to get my eyes checked,’ so what we’re doing here, after patients have gone through patient registration and triage, they get their eyes checked to see if they need glasses. They get an eye-health evaluation to check if they’ve got glaucoma or cataracts or anything like that. If they need a referral, then that is all listed as well, so they can be contacted later,” Ms. Carrasco added.

Will Kuhn and Audra Fitzgerald, with Remote Area Medical’s mobile vision lab, make lenses for Ladies of Charity clients.

“If it does end up being that they do need glasses, we have all kinds of different frames, colors, shapes—anything they might need here. They pick those frames, and they’re placed with their files, and those frames, if we can make them onsite, we send them back to our lab, and so they can leave with them as soon as an hour after they pick those frames. It’s really neat. They can come in with no glasses or broken glasses and leave with a new pair. If we can’t make them onsite, then we mail them to them later,” she noted.

The RAM clinic in Knoxville was “for whoever might need the care,” Ms. Carrasco said, adding “we don’t ask any questions. If you feel like you need the care and you need to be here, then we don’t ask any questions about that. We’ll take you in.”

The Ladies of Charity “has been phenomenal,” she added. “We wouldn’t be here had it not been for them. They were the ones that identified the need in the community. They’ve been so gracious to bring us in year after year. We usually do dental and vision services. This year, even amidst a pandemic, they said, ‘There’s need, we really want to do this, so even if we can only do vision, we want to host the clinic still.’ So we came in. They’ve done all of the planning in terms of logistics here onsite. They’ve helped with the recruiting. They’ve helped with the food, all of that good stuff. They’ve put together some baggies for patients to leave with food after they receive services.”

Will Kuhn worked in the eyeglass lab at the RAM clinic.

“We can make glasses from start to finish here,” he said. “Patients pick out the frames that they want from inside. We get their prescription, and we have a bunch of blank prescription lenses out here that we pick out according to their prescription. We can get the shape of their frame that we then fit with those lenses and make them a custom pair of glasses. It takes maybe 10 to 15 minutes to make a pair.”

Matt Elliott, community engagement coordinator for the Ladies of Charity, coordinated the all-day event with RAM representatives. He spoke about the vision-clinic clients.

“Clients included some homeless, the underinsured, and the uninsured,” he said. “For instance, there was a mother and her son who were on TennCare but couldn’t get vision exams through them for an undisclosed reason. There were also multiple instances of people who were in dire situations in regard to their eye health and had been seeking a means for eye exams for ‘forever now.’ I saw at least five individuals who had their pupils dilated. This is a procedure that allows the doctor to fully evaluate eye health and can be used to find retinal detachment, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. There were many other patients who were just relieved and grateful to have received glasses and know their eyes are healthy.”

The clinic offered the services of one ophthalmologist, Dr. Paul Wittke, Mr. Elliott said, plus the services of one optometric technician and one ophthalmic technician.

“We had three registered nurses working in triage, a pharmacy technician working on screening, one nursing student who is in a work study with the Ladies of Charity regularly, and one physician’s assistant student,” Mr. Elliott said.

The next Remote Area Medical clinic will be held in spring 2022, “and we hope to offer dental and vision services,” Mrs. Unbehaun said.

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