By Kacie Bittner
At IRIS, we want to reach every diabetic in the world, but big dreams are built on small steps. IRIS is a for-profit organization, however, our mission to end preventable blindness often affords us the opportunity to collaborate with partners and give back to the community. Client Experience Manager, Morgan Pinder, works closely with Community Health Northwest Florida (CHNWF) and as a result, she learned about a new opportunity that directly aligned with our mission.
Our Lady of Angels St. Joseph Medical Clinic is a local network of healthcare professionals who volunteer to provide free medical and dental care for uninsured, low-income patients in downtown Pensacola and surrounding areas. The clinic was founded by Dr. David Conkle, who is now retired from daily practice but continues to volunteer his time working as the Medical Director at St. Joseph’s. The staff consists of retired nurses and medical specialists in addition to non-medical administrative volunteers who come together to serve roughly 5,000 patients, annually. According to CHNWF Chief Community Engagement Officer, Ann Papadelias, who has a history of involvement with the volunteer clinic, “There was a clear need to provide diabetic eye exams for the patients.”
Together, the three healthcare organizations have launched a new program to provide retinal screenings to an underserved population. A specialist from CHNWF will visit St. Joseph’s clinic on a monthly basis, specifically on their metabolic days. Using a handheld fundus camera, 20 patient exams will be conducted each month until all of the regular patients have been scanned.
When pathology is detected during grading, the patients from St. Joseph’s will be referred to the Division of Blind Services – a state-funded program. DBS will work with patients to ensure they receive proper treatment. Morgan Pinder of IRIS noted, “It can be difficult to find uninsured patients ophthalmic care. This program would not be possible without the help of DBS who is giving St. Joseph’s patients an avenue for receiving treatment.”
While Pensacola continues to grow both economically and in population, roughly 11.4% of the population remain uninsured compared to the national average of 8.4%. An entirely volunteer-staffed medical clinic like St. Joseph’s is a rare-find in today’s bustling healthcare world, but its existence plays a crucial role in providing healthcare services to local residents who may have otherwise been unable to receive medical care.