WATERLOO — A van outfitted to serve as an eye doctor’s office spent Friday at People’s Community Health Clinic, providing free exams for 24 children.
The mobile clinic is how the nonprofit organization Vision to Learn reaches those potentially in need of glasses who have a limited ability to afford them. It has worked in 13 Iowa counties with 125 schools and community organizations, providing free glasses to children. The program is serving school-age patients at the People’s Clinic for the first time.
“These are kids that we’ve already screened and appear to have vision problems,” said Dr. Kimberly Neumann, a pediatrician at the People’s Clinic. “We were able to schedule them all to come back today.”
She noted that the clinic provides affordable medical, dental and behavioral health care to patients whether or not they have insurance. That includes about 3,000 pediatric patients, but many can readily access vision services elsewhere in the community.
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Children chosen to be served by Vision to Learn had potential vision problems and often financial barriers to dealing with them, said Neumann. In many cases, their parents are refugees who don’t speak English.
“They know our interpreters, so they feel really confident coming here to get that care,” she said. In addition, “some of them probably don’t have insurance.”
Vision to Learn began in Los Angeles in 2012 and first came to Iowa four years later, starting in Dubuque.
“We started this program to really address that so many students did not have access to vision services,” said Corrine Kroger, Iowa regional director for Vision to Learn. “We know that 80% of student learning happens visually up to age 12.” Students who can’t see in school may struggle with headaches and have a hard time focusing.
She said the timing of the mobile clinic visit will ensure the children “have the tools they need to succeed” during the school year. Working with the People’s Clinic “is especially important because they don’t have an optometrist on staff,” Kroger added.
Classes at Waterloo’s public schools start Aug. 26. It is expected to take a little longer — two to three weeks — before the mobile clinic returns to deliver the children’s glasses.
Vision to Learn visited five Waterloo Community Schools’ buildings in 2017 and recently announced it will serve students throughout the district over the next two years. Since 2016, the organization has provided 5,400 eye exams in Iowa and prescribed 4,300 pairs of glasses.