Vision Care Outreach Brings Relief in Southern California

A volunteer doctor takes measurements for a patient’s prescription glasses. Photo/Shuli Luo

Written by Shuli Luo
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

Pacific Clinics offer mental health, substance use treatment, and supportive services to Medi-Cal eligible individuals and families across Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino, and Orange Counties. The behavioral healthcare provider has partnered with Tzu Chi Medical Foundation in the past. After interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinic returned to the Pacific Clinics Santa Fe Springs location to provide vision care services while stationed there.

A Dream Come True

For many of the patients served by the Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinic that day, the care received was a dream come true. While having poor eyesight for twenty years, Jose Campos never saw an ophthalmologist or was fitted for a custom-made pair of prescription glasses because he couldn’t afford to pay for such vision care.

To cope with the issue, Jose relied on drugstore eyeglasses.  And, as his vision continued to deteriorate, unable to afford a doctor’s visit for an appropriate prescription, Jose would endure a few weeks of headaches resulting from slowly adjusting to the more powerful generic lens he would get.

Now here arose this occasion to consult an ophthalmologist and get the correct prescription for the first time. After seeing the doctor and a short waiting period during which staff made his eyeglasses, equally surprised and excited, Jose held up two new pairs: One to correct his nearsightedness, the other for reading. He exclaimed somewhat emotionally, “It’s been twenty years, and I’m so glad to finally have prescription glasses.”

Grateful and proud, Jose Campos shows off two pairs of prescription glasses he just got from the Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinic. Photo/Shuli Luo
Jose Campos gives a pandemic style thanks to the ophthalmologist who helped correct his vision with prescription eyeglasses. Photo/Shuli Luo

Linder Oreb, an octogenarian with lung cancer, was another patient served by the Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinic that day. She came with her daughter, who, sadly, had recently suffered a mental breakdown following her child’s suicide. Bravely, Linder dragged her feeble body to drive and pick up her depressed daughter so both could come to the vision care clinic.

Volunteer doctor Mengjie Lin administers an eye test to check Linder Oreb’s vision. Photo/Shuli Luo
Tzu Chi volunteer Dr. Lishuang Xu checks the eyesight of Linder Oreb’s daughter. Photo/Shulin Luo

The effort was well worth it for this aging mother and daughter, one fragile physically and the other mentally. Thanks to this unprecedented opportunity, there would be something to rejoice in and be grateful for finally: Improved eyesight thanks to prescription glasses made while they waited.

Linder Oreb and her daughter delight in their new prescription glasses from Tzu Chi and the better eyesight they bring. Photo/Shuli Luo

Tzu Chi’s Vision Care is Vital

On the same day, Herman Corteza, Corporate Director of Community Integration Services at Pacific Clinics, met Dr. William Keh, Board Director of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation. The latter had come to donate a large batch of hand sanitizers. Corteza expressed his organization’s thanks for the vision care services Tzu Chi provides and the personal protective supplies (PPE) given freely to patients during these challenging pandemic times.

The large quantity of PPE and masks Tzu Chi donated during last year’s pandemic has made it much easier for our clinic to operate. For the great contributions from the Tzu Chi community, I thank you very much on behalf of the clinic.

Dr. William Keh (left), Board Director of Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, along with other volunteers and his wife Mary (second right), deliver a large batch of donated hand sanitizers to Pacific Clinics. Photo/Shuli Luo
All hand sanitizers distributed announce on the label that Tzu Chi Medical Foundation welcomes Medi-Cal and Medicare patients. Photo/Shuli Luo

Dr. Keh acknowledged the appreciation then focused on why Tzu Chi’s vision care services are vital. “It’s known to all that, owing to the exorbitant expenses in the American medical industry, it is not very easy for a low-income patient to see a doctor,” he said. 

“Prescribing a pair of glasses not only involves a large payment to the doctor but also requires paying for materials used for the manufacturing of the glasses. What an expenditure! Which is precisely why the majority of low-income individuals just go to the market to pick up the cheapest pairs of eyeglasses to deal with vision issues,” Dr. Keh explained. And now, Tzu Chi is trying to change all that, one outreach at a time.

Being able to secure a pair of prescription glasses under the proper guidance of an ophthalmologist or optometrist has become something that’s totally out of reach for low-income groups. What Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinics can accomplish is to make it forever available for those who need help.

Dr. William Keh (right) serves a patient alongside his wife, Mary (second right). Photo/Shuli Luo
Volunteer Dufu Weng carefully verifies patients’ prescription and focal length before grinding and polishing the appropriate lenses for glasses. Photo/Shulli Luo

Dr. Boxi You, a vision care specialist affiliated with Tzu Chi Vision Mobile Clinic operations, elaborated on expanding services in Southern California. Following the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation’s application for and subsequent attainment of Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike designation in November 2020, the focus of services was re-oriented somewhat:

It pivoted from free clinic service for communities in the past to a newly adjusted way of expanded service. Currently, the Vision Mobile Clinic’s major goal is to help patients who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, namely, the elderly, handicapped, and low-income individuals, the groups that need medical help the most.

Dr. Boxi You, a vision care volunteer, checks the eyesight of a patient. Photo/Shuli Luo

However, because of its partnership with community charity groups or medical organizations for outpatient service, whenever the Vision Mobile Clinic operates, its volunteer staff inevitably encounters some patients who have no health insurance at all. As it’s Tzu Chi’s mission to provide care to whoever urgently needs it, for patients without coverage, a “slider fee” that’s reasonable and affordable will apply. In an extreme case that a patient still can’t afford a deductible, Tzu Chi may reduce or forgive some or all of the patient’s obligation.

Such an approach helps ensure that all who come seeking vision care will have the opportunity to receive it. With your love and support, we can continue to expand the reach of such services, bringing relief that can feel like a dream come true.

Won’t you join forces with Tzu Chi USA? By working together, we can make the ripples of our love and care circle ever wider, reaching those in need in our communities and beyond.