Providing Eyecare for the Needy

By MaryAnn Ragone, MAS, MPH


Participating in outreach community efforts that provide eyecare and eyewear to the needy is rewarding in itself–and in the patient loyalty it generates.


PARTICIPATE IN A CHARITY.New Eyes for the Needyprovides eyewear tounderserved populations.

PROMOTE YOUR INVOLVEMENT. Let patients know of your community outreach efforts. Many will respond with enhanced loyalty.

South Jersey Eye Center (SJEC), a non-profit 501(c)(3) facility, is based in Camden, NJ,the fourth poorest city of its size in the country. Forty-three percent of the population in Camden live at or below the poverty line. That means the demand for all services, including eyecare, is high. Affordable eyewear also is a necessity. For that reason, the SJEC works with New Eyes for the Needy to supply our patients with eyeglasses.New Eyes raises money through individual donations, foundation and corporate grants and through its resale shop that sells donated jewelry and giftware. With these funds, New Eyes provides eyeglass vouchers for the disadvantaged. This enables the SJEC to provide eyewear to needy patients who lack insurance.

A Different Kind of Practice
The South Jersey Eye Center is different from most other optometric practices in that we are focused on providing care and products for the poor. In addition to the eyewear, we have a network of eight ODs and an ophthalmologist on staff who semi-volunteer.

In addition to two offices, the Mobile Vision Clinic is equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation capable of providing comprehensive eye examinations, treatments for eye diseases and even minor surgery. The unit provides services to senior living facilities, schools, Head Start programs, and other places where it is needed, about 135 times annually.


Seeking Grants to Offer Low- or No-Cost Services
New Eyes for the Needy provides SJEC with vouchers designated for people who are uninsured and underinsured. Although this program provides for patients’ eyecare, it does not provide for the eye health and vision examination. The SJEC generally provides these eyecare services through its Sight First for Kids and Families Program. These free or low-cost services are funded through grants received from governmental agencies, corporate entities and philanthropic foundations concerned with eyecare for the needy and underserved. Although the securing of adequate funding through grants is very difficult in the current economy, the ability to provide vital eyecare services to our target population is extremely rewarding.

Gratification in Doing Good Deeds; Your Patients May Notice
One of the most gratifying things that occurs is when we see people who have an eye condition of which they are unaware of such as glaucoma. It is satisfying to realize that if we hadn’t done a comprehensive examination, the condition would not have been detected and the patient may have lost valuable sight. For every patient we see, we are basically doing a prevention-of-blindness examination. We try to create an awareness of the importance of vision and vision care to people who have not had access to eyecare–or the eyewear they receive thanks to New Eyes for the Needy –in years. In fact, many of those we see have never had an eye exam previously. Many are in their sixties and even older.


Delivering high-quality eyecare and needed eyewear to the impoverished is a reward itself, but the good deed often comes back to practicing optometrists who do this kind of work.In an age when learning about your doctor is as easy as doing a Google or Yelp search, patients appreciate knowing their doctor has the good of the community in mind. Private practitioners who provide eyecare outreach should let patients know about these services on the practice web site and social media pages. Patients will know that by supporting the doctor’s practice they are also supporting the doctor’s outreach efforts. It’s a win-win for everyone.

How Do I Get Involved?
New Eyes for the Needy is always looking for additional eyecare providers with which to work. Visit the organization’s web site at to get involved and learn more about how you can accept vouchers for free eyewear for patients who lack insurance.

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MaryAnn Ragone, MAS, MPH, is president/CEO of South Jersey Eye Center. Contact her:

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