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Bridging the Great Health Divide: Bringing eye care to underserved communities in Baton Rouge

Optometrists say good eye health is not widely available in certain communities of Baton Rouge, so they are bringing life into focus for thousands.
Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 6:40 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Imagine the bright, beautiful, vibrant colors of a Baton Rouge spring now blurry. It is an all too common reality for many across the region, especially with children.

“If they go to school, don’t see the board, they start to act out in different ways,” said Dr. Daniel Smith, an eye doctor. “So, they stop paying attention to what the teacher is telling them, and that leads to other things that are not good for what they are trying to do in their life.”

Unless children have eye exams, Dr. Smith said children simply do not realize their world is not in focus.

“Kids think that everyone sees like them,” said Smith. “So, you know, you don’t know what 20/20 is until you actually show a child. Just like teaching someone what hot is, you don’t know what hot is until you actually experience it for yourself.”

The problem is compounded in areas like Old South Baton Rouge, an area where more residents are living in poverty than in most of East Baton Rouge Parish. Doctors say the neighborhood suffers from a lack of healthcare resources, especially eye care.

“Within the first month of opening here, we’ve had so many patients actually walk to this clinic because they had no previous access,” said Dr. Khahn Trinh, an eye doctor who works with Dr. Smith.

To help bridge the gap, Smith and Trinh opened an eye care center in the Leo S. Butler Community Center. It is the only eye care center in the neighborhood.

“Some people haven’t had eye exams in 3, 4, 10-15 years, and they’re coming in saying thank you for being here because we haven’t had an eye exam in a long amount of time,” said Trinh. “And, when they do come in, lot of them have so many issues with their vision that they didn’t even know because if you don’t get your eyes examined, how do you know?”

By making care readily available, the doctors said they’re helping bridge the divide in healthcare for an underserved community and improving the quality of life for an entire neighborhood.

“Whether they’re four-years-old, 94 years old, their reaction when they’re actually able to see better than they’re actually able to see is just pulling on my heart strings,” said Trinh.

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