Countywide : State Optometrists Offer Free Vision Exams for Poor

Occasionally, a patient will put on his or her first pair of eyeglasses and say, "Wow, there's leaves on top of the trees," said Dr. Thomas Holden, an Oxnard optometrist.

"It's amazing how not being able to see well literally changes your perspective of the world," Holden said.

"Poor vision can confine you to a very small world. And this happens a lot. Especially among those with lower incomes who can't afford the privilege of routine eye exams."

In an effort to help open up a new world for the working poor, the California Vision Project will provide free eye examinations and prescription glasses to qualified applicants beginning in November.

The program is aimed at people who earn too much money to get MediCal but not enough to afford health insurance, said Holden, project chairman for Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

With an average one-hour basic exam costing about $65, and prescription glasses often starting at $75, many of the working poor forgo an eye exam because it does not seem like an immediate necessity, Holden said.

But not only do optometrists provide corrective care, they can also discover eye disease that can lead to vision loss if not caught and treated.

"No one should go blind just because they don't have enough money for insurance," Holden said.

Last year, during the first California Vision Project, participating optometrists examined about 3,000 people statewide, and officials are expecting twice as many patients this year.

The Salvation Army's Oxnard and Ventura offices are accepting applications through Oct. 12 for this year's project.

Participants must be part of a family in which at least one person is working full time, and the household income must be at or below the poverty line.

The family cannot be receiving any kind of government assistance or health insurance.

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