Rocio Barba Quintana, 38, is studying to become a certified nursing assistant. But one of the biggest obstacles she faces is right in front of her.
"I’m going to school and I can't see the board," said the Mt. Hood Community College student. Quintana hasn’t had her eyes checked since she last had health insurance that covered eye exams 15 years ago. Her doctor prescribed eyeglasses at the time, but they were too expensive for the mother of two. That is until April 29 when Quintana and more than 70 Multnomah County residents had their eyes examined at a special all-day clinic at La Clinica de Buena Salud. Quintana and others left with glasses, prescriptions and other critical eye care.
“Thank you for your help. For your time. God bless you,’’ said Librada Moreno Aguilar, who came with her husband Otoniel Romero Diaz to the event.
“Ruby told us about it,’’ Diaz said.
“Ruby’’ is Ruby Ibarra, a community health specialist and longtime Cully community member who worked with Casey Eye Institute to help wrangle experts and equipment from Casey, Oregon Health & Science University, Pacific Lutheran University, and Tuality Healthcare. Ruby worked with La Clinica staff and community outreach workers at other Multnomah County clinics to determine the most vulnerable patients, then performed outreach and reminder calls to ensure patients could take advantage of this opportunity.As the volunteers popped up examination stations throughout the clinic on a sunny Saturday, patients filled every exam room and spilled out into the parking lot where three medical vans offered other eye and physical exams. A therapy dog, Dodger Dog, paced waiting areas, accepting scratches and pats.
The idea for the clinic was to reach people with pre-diabetes or diabetes, a diagnosis that makes their vision particularly vulnerable, said Ray Sindell, La Clinica manager. People who have diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exams at least once a year because high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the retina. People with diabetes also have a higher risk of cataracts, glaucoma, and other diseases that cause vision loss or blindness.
“These exams are very expensive for people who are underinsured and uninsured, who otherwise will not go to the optometrist or opthamologist due to lack of resources,’’ Ibarra said. “It was a perfect window of opportunity.’’
Eye doctors are constantly on the lookout for diabetes, too, said Janet Baker, executive director of Oregon Optometric Physicians Association. In 2014, eye doctors diagnosed 240,000 cases of diabetes nationwide.
David Linn, 53, rode his three-wheeled bicycle to the clinic where he had his blood sugar, blood pressure, body mass and weight measured before heading into the eye exams. Since suffering a stroke, he’s been unable to work and relies heavily on the clinic. He sees his primary care provider at La Clinica, as well as takes cooking classes for healthier eating. He has become so connected he now volunteers on the clinic's community advisory board.
“A lot of people are struggling to make ends meet and I tell everyone I know: this clinic has made a difference in my life. It’s been a godsend and if they don’t have the answer, they will send you in the right direction.’’Students and professionals give back
For OHSU medical students such as Ross Passo, McKenzie Deane and Ashley Stading, the Saturday clinic provided an opportunity to meet community members, get volunteer hours and practice their people and examination skills.
“It makes me happy to make people happy,’’ said T.J. Evens, an OHSU volunteer who is hoping to get into nursing school.
Sindell, the La Clinica manager, said he wanted to thank all the Multnomah County staff who helped make this important event possible: Ruby Ibarra, Keila Barrientos, Wendy Tacuba, Michele Koder, Fanni Rodriguez, Jose Salazar, Graciela Garcia, Marlem Yanez, Marge Robare, Teresa Zaballa. "Without the hard work and dedication of these folks, we could not have organize this event for our community.”
One patient, who came straight from her job as a caregiver still wearing her uniform, said despite 10 years on the job, she has never had insurance coverage for regular exams. But she was so excited to see the volunteer clinic, she said next time she wants to volunteer, too.
"I love the idea that they're helping the community. They're so attentive."