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Health clinic operator lifts lid on roving Eyemobile

A mobile clinic is hitting the road to bring vision care to patients at community health centers in Stanislaus and Merced counties.

Golden Valley Health Centers unveiled the Eyemobile on Wednesday at its Sixth Street clinic in Modesto.

It is like the MOMobile, a roving clinic that delivers health services to low-income families in the two counties. But as the name suggests, the Eyemobile focuses on vision care for children and adults.

Golden Valley, which operates more than 20 medical clinics in Stanislaus and Merced counties, has patients who need optometry services, but their numbers aren't large enough to justify a full-time optometrist at any one clinic, representatives said.

Also, some of its clinics are in areas where residents lack transportation or health insurance.

The Eyemobile will visit nine of Golden Valley's busiest health centers regularly, which are the Sixth Street, Tenaya Drive and Hanshaw Middle School clinics in Modesto, the Ceres and Newman clinics and the health centers in Merced, Planada, Dos Palos and Los Banos.

Patients will receive eye exams, prescriptions for glasses and instructions on where they can buy glasses at low cost. The medical van is about the size of a bus, so it is packed with other equipment to test patients for glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye problems.

The clinic accepts Medi-Cal, Medicare, Healthy Families and commercial insurances. Uninsured patients can pay on a sliding fee scale starting at $30 a visit. Lions Clubs in the area are providing frames for patients with financial need.

"Today, we can make the equipment small enough to fit in a medical van," said Catherine Veaco, the optometrist aboard the Eyemobile. "There are a large number of patients at our clinic sites that are not getting primary eye care."

Veaco is a former assistant professor at the Southern California College of Optometry. Since relocating to the Central Valley about 10 years ago, she has been an optometrist on the move. She continued to run teaching clinics in Southern California and managed a clinic for the legally blind in Las Vegas.

More contact with patients

She accepted the position with Golden Valley because she wanted a new challenge and more patient contact, she said.

The medical van was purchased from a Lions Club in Texas. Golden Valley paid $86,000 for the vehicle and installed $80,000 worth of equipment.

Many of Golden Valley's patients have vision benefits through Medi-Cal, the state's health program for the poor. Veaco said she hopes the benefits stay off the chopping block as the state tries to erase a $15.2 billion budget deficit.

Flora Martinez, a Golden Valley patient and board member from Merced, said there is a big need for optometry in outlying communities. "It is very important, especially for children to get eye exams," she said.

Golden Valley, a private, nonprofit system of health centers, focuses its services on low- income families, migrant and seasonal farmworkers, Southeast Asian refugees and the homeless. The Eyemobile will have staff fluent in Spanish and English, as well as interpreters for Hmong and Cambodian patients.

Holly Davies of Modesto said she did without glasses while she was homeless for six months. She recently was fitted with glasses after getting back on Medi-Cal a few months ago.

"Just from being homeless, I know a lot of people who need glasses and basic health care," she said. "The need is there."

To schedule an examination at the Eyemobile, call Golden Valley Health Centers at 383-7411.

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