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News / Health / Clark County Health

Kaiser clinics providing free eye exams in Southwest Washington

Health care organization provides checkups as part of MLK week of service

By Nika Bartoo-Smith, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 19, 2023, 7:07pm
4 Photos
Dr. Jeff Fries, left, works with client Megan Morrell during the Kaiser Permanente Salmon Creek Medical Office eye clinic Thursday afternoon. Morrell is one of around 160 patients who received a free eye exam at one of six Kaiser locations during the Martin Luther King Jr. week of service. Kaiser partnered with health clinics across Southwest Washington and the Portland metro area to provide free eye care to individuals in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Dr. Jeff Fries, left, works with client Megan Morrell during the Kaiser Permanente Salmon Creek Medical Office eye clinic Thursday afternoon. Morrell is one of around 160 patients who received a free eye exam at one of six Kaiser locations during the Martin Luther King Jr. week of service. Kaiser partnered with health clinics across Southwest Washington and the Portland metro area to provide free eye care to individuals in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Optometrists at Kaiser Permanente clinics across Southwest Washington and the Portland metro area were hard at work providing free eye care exams to patients on Thursday.

The free eye clinics are part of a Martin Luther King Jr. week of service hosted by Kaiser. This year, 500 Kaiser staff volunteered at 40 different sites throughout the week, to help serve the community through events including blood drives, serving meals, working at food banks and community cleanups, according to a press release.

“Kaiser Permanente is sincerely committed to these programs,” said Michael Foley, director of integrated communications at Kaiser. “We are committed to anything that helps people lead a healthier life.”

Eye health was the service area of focus on Thursday, with six community-based health organizations throughout the Kaiser system providing free eye exams and glasses to community members. Two of the six locations were in Vancouver, with a third in Longview.

“This day emphasizes Kaiser Permanente’s mission, which is service — caring for those most in need,” said Dr. Lydia Stender, an optometrist at the Longview clinic. “(The eye exam) is a small thing that can really make a big difference.”

Every participating optometrist, one at each of the six clinics, saw around 27 patients. During the entire event, Kaiser providers conducted around 160 eye exams, providing over 100 free pairs of new glasses, according to a press release.

Each exam was a standard eye exam, looking at eye health along with vision, because eye health can be an indicator of overall health, according to Stender. Poor eye health can be an indicator of underlying health problems such as glaucoma or diabetes, she said. Optometrists referred patients to other community clinics for further care as needed.

Battle Ground HealthCare partnered with Kaiser to refer patients to Kaiser’s Salmon Creek Medical Office for eye exams. The Free Clinic of Southwest Washington referred patients to Kaiser’s Orchards Medical Office.

“Our patients are so appreciative,” said Susan Neal, executive director of Battle Ground HealthCare. “It makes such a difference in their lives.”

Many of the patients served at Battle Ground HealthCare suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, which can negatively impact vision, according to Neal.

“(Access to glasses) is a huge quality-of-life issue,” Neal said. “This (event) is a huge benefit for our patients to get their eyes checked and then get glasses.”

At Kaiser’s Salmon Creek Medical Office on Thursday, Dr. Jeff Fries, an optometric physician, saw 27 patients. Fries has worked at Kaiser for four years, and this was his third year participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. week of service by providing free eye exams.

“That’s the nice thing about Kaiser Permanente — they not only have always encouraged us to do community outreach, but they’re providing us with this outlet to do so,” said Fries. “And it’s been well received so far. All the patients have been really appreciative.”

For more information about Kaiser, visit kp.kaiserpermanente.org.

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Columbian staff reporter