Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in Tarrant County. Left untreated, it can cause kidney failure and can contribute to heart disease and stroke.
But diabetes also affects people’s eyes and can lead to vision loss and blindness.
A new eye clinic in Tarrant County hopes to stem the tide of diabetes-related vision loss, especially among county residents who don’t have health or eye insurance to pay for essential care.
The clinic, which is part of the North Texas Area Community Health Centers, will primarily serve patients with eye damage and vision loss resulting from diabetes and high blood pressure. For years, patients at the health center were denied eye care because they could not afford to go to an ophthalmologist or could not travel to the inexpensive eye clinics elsewhere in the city.
“Many of these patients have never seen an ophthalmologist because they do not have access to this care,” said Dr Patricia Rodriguez, chief medical officer of the health center.
The Eye Clinic is located on the second floor of the North Health Center’s flagship location at 2332 Beverly Hills Drive. The clinic began receiving patients in August and opened to the public in November.
Jesús Solis started coming to the Northside Clinic about eight years ago for medical treatment for diabetes and high blood pressure. Solis, a 64-year-old Fort Worth resident, has no health insurance. Thanks to the care Solis received at the clinic, he was able to significantly lower his blood sugar, he said in Spanish, and control both his diabetes and blood pressure. But before Solis began to seek treatment, his diabetes damaged small blood vessels behind his left eye, he said. He will need eye surgery to repair the damage to his eye, but currently cannot afford care, he said.
Carmen Lavarreda, a community health educator at the clinic, said she sees patients like Solis – who have lost their eyesight due to their diabetes – every day. Lavarreda said some patients who have had unmanaged diabetes are unaware that the disease can cause lasting damage to their eyes.
“I often have patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes for years,” Lavarreda said. “When we sit down and educate … they don’t really know what their A1C is, or what their diabetes really is.”
Rodriguez said the clinic will provide standard vision care for children and adults, but expects the majority of patients to need treatment for vision loss related to diabetes or to the disease. hypertension according to the current needs of patients. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults aged 18 to 64, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Fort Worth optometrists of the Community Eye Clinic began to notice the need for another eye clinic years ago, when they realized that the hundreds of patients referred to them by the Northside Health Center just didn’t show up for their dates.
“The patients from Northside just weren’t coming and we had a waiting list of about 800 people,” said Dr. Jennifer Deakins, clinical director of the downtown clinic, which provides vision care to low cost to people without insurance.
Deakins said patients lacked transportation or just weren’t comfortable going to a new place for their medical care, so they did without.
From now on, these patients will no longer have to cross the city. Instead, they can walk up to the second floor of the health center.
In addition to treating eye conditions related to diabetes and hypertension, the clinic will also provide other basic needs such as glasses and routine check-ups, clinic director Dr. Mary Kate Sain said. And, thanks to a partnership with the University of Houston College of Optometry, fourth-year college students will rotate into the clinic where they will undergo hands-on training under the supervision of Sain.
“We will serve as an educational institution,” said Sain, who is also a practice teacher at the college. “This way, we’ll be able to provide the most exceptional patient care, but also help (new doctors) learn and train. “
The eye clinic is the first of several additions the health center hopes to offer to create a medical home for some of Tarrant County’s most vulnerable residents, Rodriguez said. Ultimately, the center hopes to be able to offer dental care as well as additional behavioral and mental health services.
The Northside Clinic is the flagship location for Community Health Centers in the North Texas region, the only health center in the county designated as a Federal Qualified Health Center. These centers have received federal funding to provide medical care in areas considered medically underserved. In Tarrant County, the center treats thousands of people who do not have health insurance and have very little or no income. In Tarrant County, about 17% of adults between the ages of 18 and 65 do not have health insurance, according to census data.
Texas has more residents without health insurance than any other state in the United States
The health center is open to anyone seeking medical care. Last year, the clinic treated over 11,000 patients, with almost all of those patients earning less than 200% of federal poverty guidelines, or about $ 13,000 per year for an individual, according to federal data. The majority of patients at the health center do not have any type of health insurance, according to the data.
The eye clinic was funded with support from the Alcon Foundation, Fort Worth Lighthouse for the Blind, Amon G. Carter Foundation and the Clinicians Association for the Under-Served.
How to get eye care if you don’t have health or eye insurance or if you are underinsured: To visit the Northside Community Health Center Eye Clinic, you must be a current patient at the center. To become a patient and request an appointment, call 817-625-4254 or go online at ntachc.org.
This story was originally published November 10, 2021 1:46 pm.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Dr. Sain’s name. Dr. Mary Kate Sain is the clinic director.
Corrected on November 10, 2021