Bridging the Gap — A New Clinic Provides Vision Care to Those in Need

Bryce St. Clair, an optometrist at Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, has started a clinic in Baltimore that aims to help a population in the city that has been underserved.

Working with CASA, a nonprofit organization that provides services to immigrant and working-class families, and the Maryland Optometric Association (MOA), St. Clair has created a single point of service for immigrants and refugees in the area to receive essential eye care. He says that with no federally funded health care centers in Baltimore that provide vision services, immigrants and refugees who are either undocumented or awaiting insurance coverage are unable to obtain care for glaucoma, amblyopia, refractive error and other conditions. 

Through the MOA, St. Clair was able to obtain volunteers, and more than $10,000 worth of donated exam equipment so that he could convert a storage closet at CASA’s Baltimore office into a full-fledged clinic that can perform comprehensive eye exams. Working with fellow Wilmer optometrist Corinne Casey and optometry and pre-optometry students from The Johns Hopkins University, the group was able to see patients for the first time on April 22. More than 85 families signed up for free exams.

After patients were screened, St. Clair and Casey advised them whether they recommended glasses, a second opinion for potential diagnosis of conditions such as glaucoma, or referrals to Wilmer specialists for surgical intervention. “We’re getting these patients in touch with an entrance into the health care system,” says St. Clair.

Casey says the clinic at CASA helps reduce barriers to care, noting that an eye screening can help identify larger health issues that disproportionally impact underserved communities, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. “With the eye and vision health, there are a lot of conditions that are asymptomatic or can go undiagnosed, that are preventable and treatable at early stages if they’re caught through screenings and routine checks,” she says.

St. Clair says his goal is to secure enough grant funding to make what was once a passion project into a sustainable clinic. “Hopefully, we can prove to the state and the government that this is a clinic worth investing in,” he says. “By providing access to care to those who cannot afford it or do not qualify for medical insurance, we reduce overall health care costs and improve patient outcomes.”