VIC

Small Changes Pay Big Dividends at Yakima's Vision Independence Clinic

Dr Babin helping a patient at the VIC

Life-changing treatments come in many forms.

One day, it might be a lighted mirror. The next: a large print reader, a telescope - even a mobile phone.

At the Vision Independence Clinic (VIC) in Yakima, optometrists work with patients every day - from children to seniors - making simple vision adjustments that have significant impacts on their quality of life.

Dr. Christopher Babin, an optometrist with Cascade Eye Center in Yakima, regularly volunteers at the VIC and enjoys the way technology can help patients regain their independence.  "In a nerdy kind of way, it's pretty cool stuff!" said Babin. "I had one patient - a retired police officer - who had to retire due to vision loss. He could not drive for 20 years. We got him set up with a telescope so that he could drive in town to church, grocery store, doctor's appointments," added Babin. "For him as well as us - that's truly a powerful feeling when you think, 'I just helped improve this person's quality of life.'"

Another patient's macular degeneration had gotten so bad she was unable to read - and reading was her passion. "Even large print books were no longer an option," said Babin. "She had come in and was ready to give up - her macular degeneration gotten to point that this woman could not read print easily." he added. "We found a couple different devices to let her read the type of materials she enjoys reading. When she left that day, she had this big smile on her face from ear to ear," he said.

"To me, that told it all."  

The clinic first began in 2005 when Babin and his peers realized there was a need for these resources in central Washington. Together he, along with fellow ODs Byron Thomas and Dale Graff, began meeting with other area practitioners about establishing a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with low vision issues.

To confirm the need, they distributed a survey to 40 optometrists and ophthalmologists in Kittitas and Yakima counties. The response of the survey recipients was a resounding YES. The survey results indicated that these doctors saw over 3,000 patients - just in the year 2007 -with eye diseases that are likely to cause permanent vision loss.  

The VIC saw its first patient in 2008 and has three doctors - ODs Jackelyn Meyer, Jennifer Crown and Babin - who volunteer there on a regular basis and see patients on site 2-3 days a month, depending on the need. VIC is staffed by a clinic director who is aided by other volunteers who provide patient support and help run the clinic store.

The clinic offers an array of adaptive devices to help patients with low vision issues make optimum use of their remaining sight. Low-vision evaluations can be billed to Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance or paid by the patient directly. Patients can self-refer or be referred by a provider.

Jackelyn Meyer, a clinic volunteer and optometrist at Valley Vision Associates in Ellensburg, completed a residency in low vision treatment with the intention of eventually serving underserved communities.

"I feel like it's my duty to volunteer at the VIC -I have access to these resources and my patients don't," said Meyer. "A lot of this really is counseling - listening to patients and helping identify where their vision is not working for them. For example, we often teach patients how to use their mobile phones appropriately in real life. Access to technology and those accessibility features are huge, and patients are really unaware those things are there for them," she said.

"We are able to bridge the gap between low vision and quality of life," Meyer added. "It's just talking to patients and walking them through their vision loss. It fills my cup so much." Anyone interested in helping out is encouraged to volunteer at the VIC.

"If you're interested in treating patients with low vision and don't want the expense yourself, VIC is a perfect opportunity because everything is there - all you have to do is show up and provide low vision services," said Babin. 

The VIC's annual fundraiser - suspended for the past few years due to COVID - is back on the books, too. Dining in the Dark will be held Oct. 15 in Yakima.

Learn more about the VIC at https://www.vicyakima.org/.