The new UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children has started its engine and is driving to schools in San Diego County to serve low-income families in need of eye exams.
The new EyeMobile is a 33-foot-long furnished recreational vehicle with two exam rooms, as well as a waiting area for children and families. It even has a television for the children to watch while they wait for their exam and a wall area with a robust selection of eye frames.
The new UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children, a program of UC San Diego Health, was funded by an estate gift from a former patient.
The vehicle is scheduled to visit approximately 250 preschools this coming year in underserved areas at no cost to families. It replaces the previous EyeMobile that had been in service for nearly 15 years.
The bigger more efficient EyeMobile will help achieve the program’s long-term goal of providing eye care services to 20,000 underserved, low-income children per year.
“The families we serve do not have another way to access eye exams. Some don’t even have transportation and others must decide between getting milk or getting eyeglasses for their kids,” said Iliana Molina, director of the UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children.
“The new EyeMobile will allow us to continue providing a critical service to families. When children can see, they are able to learn, which then expands the educational opportunities for under-represented students.”
The EyeMobile program includes vision screening, dilated eye examinations by an optometrist, a free pair of glasses if needed, follow-up monitoring with teachers and parents and referrals for subspecialist care as needed.
There is also bilingual parent and teacher information to teach families about the importance of eye/brain development and how eye care plays a crucial role in preparing children to learn.
“Early detection and treatment have proven to reduce the negative impact vision problems may have on a child’s development. If left untreated, conditions such as amblyopia, could lead to irreversible vision loss and psychosocial effects,” said Rachel Lee, OD, optometrist with the UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children.
“The EyeMobile program provides children with the best sight so they can learn at their maximum potential.”
The UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children is a program in the Division of Community Ophthalmology at the Shiley Eye Institute and Viterbi Family Department of Ophthalmology.
Funded by several foundations, corporations and individuals, the UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile program launched in 2001. Since then, more than 250,000 children across San Diego County have been screened. The program has become a model for other communities and a platform for research studies.
In 2021-2022, the UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children traveled 8,226 miles and delivered 895 pairs of prescription glasses to students.
“My favorite part of the experience is delivering the eyeglasses to the students at school and watching their reaction when they can see clearly for the first time,” said Molina.
“I will never forget the first time I delivered a pair of glasses. The little boy was amazed that I had freckles. He gently touched my face and could not believe he could see that much detail. It was an emotional moment and made me realize the profound impact of the program.”
The former EyeMobile will be retrofitted to provide senior vision care services throughout San Diego County.
“When I go to bed each night, I know we did something good, and it’s incredibly rewarding,” said Molina.
“I considered medical school or law school before I chose this career path. There is not a day that goes by where I regret my decision. I am fully dedicated to the EyeMobile program, our amazing team, parents and teachers, school administrators and our donors.”
In addition to the UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children, UC San Diego Health has embarked on other regional efforts to address health equity in local neighborhoods, including mobile vaccination units.