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A New Vision for Better Eyesight in East Parkside

(From left to right: Hugh Hamilton, Peter Chansky, Ranjoo Prasad, OD, and Douglas Worrall)
Serving the East Parkside communitysince 1995, the UnitedCommunity Clinic (UCC) draws from skills andresources of students and staff from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing,Dentistry, and Social Work to offer many free critical health services to thosewho may not receive this care otherwise. Based in First African PresbyterianChurch in West Philadelphia, UCC offers physicals, diagnostic tests, education,referrals, and much more.

Six years ago, an assessmentsurveying the top health needs in East Parkside determined that eyesight wasthe greatest need. After receiving the results, Ranjoo Prasad, OD,clinical associate at Scheie Eye Institute and UCC, worked with colleagues at Scheie Eye Institute to implement a program to address eyesight issues in EastParkside over the next few years.

In 2009, another assessment foundthat eyesight was back on top of East Parkside’s health needs. Taking charge,Douglas Worrall, student at the Perelman School of Medicine, applied for a Penn MedicineCAREs grant and secured funding for a visionprogram at UCC.

The team volunteers their time forthe first visit and this program pays for the second visit and glasses atScheie. In the first visit, the patients find out if they need an eyesightprescription, and receive an ocular health assessment at UCC. If the patientneeds glasses, they are referred to Scheie for another exam and pick up theglasses.

Scheie provides the equipment, andalso offers the lenses and frames at a significantly lower cost than availableelsewhere.

Sometimes the screening, or the exam, detects sightthreatening eye diseases and helps patients take the necessary actions toaddress them, such as expediting state financial assistance through UCC’s socialwork program.

The service is valuable to bothmembers of the community along with the students treating them.

“It’s an amazing experienceto get out of the classroom and away from the books a little bit and realizewhy I’m pursuing medicine in the first place,” said Douglas Worrall,student at the Perelman School of Medicine and treasurer of UCC. “To interactwith patients and learn clinical medicine at an early level is a unique andspecial opportunity.”

Other students further Worrall’ssentiment.

“This clinic is an amazingopportunity to have that patient interaction and see its inner workings,”said  Peter Chansky, senior biology major at Penn andco-coordinators with Penn junior Hugh Hamilton at UCC. “This clinic isreally special because it brings together all these components of Penn, and wesee all these cool pieces work together.”

Anne Marie Otto, administrative patient service representative, works with Chansky and Hamilton to schedule patients,ensuring the patients know where to be, are on time, and fulfill otherorganizational roles, such as making sure everyone is getting the screeningexam they need. Ann Marie handles the second component, scheduling the secondappointment and making sure the glasses have been ordered.

Many of the clinic’s visitors areuninsured, most of those who are insured are on Medicaid, others have insuranceand do not realize it, so it is not easy for a number of these patients toafford glasses at full price or pay expensive co-pays.

Angelique Maury is one of thosepatients. Several years ago, a Penn student interned at Maury’s workplace andtold her about UCC so that she could offer the information to her clients.

Maury did not anticipate using thisinformation for herself, but was very happy she did, noting that the thoroughphysical and eye examination she received had far surpassed her expectations.
“I thought the quality of care would be rushed and abit insensitive because the program is lead by students, rather than doctors,”said Maury. “Normally, I would see doctors leading and the students observing.I was impressed to find that the students’ quality of care and service deliveryreflected that of well trained and experienced doctors. I thought this would bea shortcut way to a quick/fast physical without any quality attention. Contraryto my belief, my visit was comforting due to the friendly caring young men andwomen who were sincerely interested in my overall health.”    
Maury suggested that some people using free healthservices feel they may not receive top quality care because sometimes theprogram may be poorly funded, operated by volunteers in training rather thanexperienced professionals, among other issues.

“I also received the eye examinationas part of my first visit, and got more impressed as they followed up with meat their main office for my glasses,” said Maury.

Maury plans on continuing to spreadthe word of this resource to the many others who need it in East Parkside. Thetalented students and staff look forward to it.

“Everyone has a duty and obligationto give back to the community, no matter what you do and at what level or way,whether money, time and labor, or knowledge,” said Prasad.


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