Optical solutions

Groups start effort to give glasses, lenses to city's poor

June 05, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN REPORTER

Nelson Stroman lost his eyeglasses in February and has been trying to get a new pair ever since.

Lacking insurance, the 56-year-old homeless man has been regularly visiting the nonprofit Health Care for the Homeless, based in downtown Baltimore, for help.

"I can't read without glasses. ... I need bifocals," Stroman said. "Reading a paper is hard."

He is one of about 30 people who come each month to Health Care for the Homeless, which works with another nonprofit - the Maryland Society for Sight - to provide vision care and new glasses to the poor.

The wait for new glasses can be a few months, and the nonprofits have had to raise money to subsidize the effort, which can cost about $100 per pair of glasses.

That is about to change. As Stroman waited for his latest checkup, officials from the two nonprofits, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Davis Vision, a managed vision care organization, announced yesterday a new effort to donate dozens of pairs of glasses and lenses each month to help defray the costs for the nonprofits.

During an informal gathering of the nonprofit and company officials, Joseph Carlomusto, president and chief executive officer of Davis, said giving people regular eye care can help catch potentially serious health problems early. And being able to see well will help people lead more productive lives, he said.

"A simple pair of eyeglasses may make the difference between someone having a job and being on the street," Carlomusto said. He noted later that the glasses would be new and would be manufactured to the same standards followed in making glasses sold commercially.

Sherry L. Roe, director of adult eye health programs for the Maryland Society for Sight, said her organization delivers eye-care services to eight sites in the Baltimore area using its "Vision Van," a recreational vehicle that has been modified into what is essentially an ophthalmologist's office on wheels.

She said Health Care for the Homeless prescreens people who might need vision care and that society volunteers conduct follow-up assessments and prescribe glasses.

It costs about $50,000 a year to run the program, she said, and the donation by Davis Vision will have an "immediate impact on someone's life."

Yesterday, Stroman was the first person in line to be called to complete a checkup. He was seen by Dr. Richard Scholz, who has volunteered for several years. After an eyesight evaluation that included a test for glaucoma, Stroman was grateful that he was one step closer to getting new glasses.

He suffers from diabetes and other health complications, including having half a stomach as the result of a gunshot wound he suffered when he was 19.

He had spent the previous night sleeping on a friend's porch. His health - and finding a new home - are his top priorities, he said.

"I'm doing pretty good," said Stroman, who expects to get his new glasses in two weeks. "Because God has helped me all this time, even with my problems."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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