That pair of spectacles on the nightstand or the annual trip to the ophthalmologist may not seem like a big deal to some, but to many people, these health ‘luxuries’ are forced to the wayside. To help bridge this vision gap, a multitude of St. Louisans are working to protect the sight of those in need through locally-founded eye programs.
ReSpectacle works to pair unused prescription eyeglasses with new owners via an online database and prescription logarithm. Simply put, those who cannot afford eyeglasses can enter their prescription online and search through a gallery of available options. To determine accuracy, the logarithm finds correct prescription, assigning them a color rating to determine how helpful they would be. These ship free-of-charge, and what was once trash becomes a life-changing form of support.
Since its start, co-founder and CFO Josh Anderson says ReSpectacle has sent out 200 individuals glasses domestically, as well as another 182 internationally. While eye exams are not offered, Anderson explains that the refraction test can normally be performed for a minimal cost. Since the frames, lenses and shipping are free, this examination is the only out-of-pocket expense. Internationally, these measurements often are taken by visiting professionals.
“In order to be able to make this free for people to get their glasses, the providers need to be volunteers,” Anderson says, explaining that they often work with medical students during rotations and residencies. “An easy way for us to get people dedicated to what we’re doing is by offering them the ability to learn how to use lensometers to measure glasses, so we provide the training to that.” Not only does this system gain immediate manpower, but there is always hope the program will travel with the students when they find permanent employment elsewhere.
The plan seems to be working, as ReSpectable grew from five to nine processing sites this month alone. “We’re anticipating growing at a much quicker rate,” Anderson explains. “We went from having about 2,000 glasses in our database six months ago to about 3,000. We’re hoping to increase the number to 10,000 by this time next year. Certainly our bottleneck at this point has been to measure all those glasses, clean them and put them on the website.”
That extra manpower will be beneficial, as the need for quality eyeglasses is high. Anderson explains that 122 million people, as reported by the World Health Organization, have poor eyesight simply because of their lack of corrective lenses. “When you don’t have your sight, it affects things on so many levels: your ability to learn and interact with the world, education and employment opportunities, your quality of life… all of those can be improved for 122 million people across the world just by getting glasses that work for them.”
While exams may not fall under ReSpectacle’s umbrella of offerings, the Edward Berg M.D. Memorial Eye Clinic at St. Mary’s Hospital is designed with examinations in mind. Serving specifically adults, the clinic is open two days per month for Medicaid and Medicare clients, as well as those who are uninsured.
“I was in the business for about 50 years before I retired from my practice,” says founder Dr. Kenneth Green. “I didn’t see any reason not to continue on a pro-bono basis. There was a need, and I decided to fill that need.” The clinic is named after a fellow ophthalmologist, the late Dr. Edward Berg, and while the two did not work together directly, they knew one another from the field.
These clinic primarily serves patients with glaucoma and diabetes, as these problems are “major causes of blindness in the adult community,” and, with the proper treatment, there is often a way to delay or avoid it. “It’s what I’ve been doing all my professional life,” Green says of his beneficial work. “I have the time and the availability and the experience to do it. It’s a natural fit.”