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A new vision: Optometrist departure leaves void at clinic

Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Sunday, July 21, 2013 5:55 a.m. CST
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(Mike Krebs – mkrebs@shawmedia.com)
Dr. Jon Russell examines Marguerette Esson's eyes at the Retina Institute of Illinois in Crystal Lake, Dr. Russell uses the facility as a satellite office for the not-for-profit Center for Sight & Hearing based in Rockford..
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(Mike Krebs – mkrebs@shawmedia.com)
Dr. Jon Russell explains the benefits of a text magnifier to Marguerette Esson at the Retina Institute of Illinois in Crystal Lake.
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(Mike Krebs – mkrebs@shawmedia.com)
Dr. Jon Russell administers a vision test.
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(Mike Krebs – mkrebs@shawmedia.com)
An ophthalmologist's travel kit sits on a counter at the Retina Institute of Illinois in Crystal Lake on July 10, 2013. Dr. Jon Russell uses this kit because it contains lenses that are more powerful than the lenses typically used by ophthalmologists. Dr. Russell specializes in patients with extremely poor vision.
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(Mike Krebs – mkrebs@shawmedia.com)
Dr. Jon Russell stands in an examination room at the Retina Institute of Illinois in Crystal Lake on July 10, 2013.

WOODSTOCK – Broken down to the numbers, all Optometrist Jon Russell’s departure from Family Health Partnership Clinic does is create a 180-minute void once a month.

But considering his were the only three hours the clinic for the uninsured and underinsured had the ability to provide eye care, it’s a time slot management wants to fill – and then some – as soon as possible.

Even with Russell, who’d been with FHPC since shortly after it opened, the clinic had built a roughly 30-person wait list for eye care.

“I think there’s probably at least two full days a month that aren’t getting filled,” said Russell, who left the clinic last month to devote more time to another not-for-profit, the Rockford-based Center for Sight & Hearing. “We could be seeing those patients I didn’t get to see because we had too many people to schedule.”

Providing eye care has been part of founder and Executive Director Suzanne Hoban’s vision since she started the clinic in the mid-1990s.

Since then, the amount of uninsured McHenry County residents has continued to grow. Even those with medical insurance aren’t always allowed regular eye check-ups under their plans, Hoban said.

“Everything that we take for granted – having good vision or correctable vision – is really lost when you cannot afford an eye exam and the glasses to go with it,” she said. “It makes a huge economic impact on the family as well as on the workplace.”

The partnership clinic in Woodstock has gotten help from other agencies like the local Lion’s Club to provide glasses for those who can’t afford them.

But in many instances, because of a lack of help the clinic has had to prioritize eye check-ups for diabetes ahead of those for poor vision.

“Everybody who has diabetes is supposed to go once a year to get an exam,” Russell said. “Most people over there hadn’t gone their whole life. They couldn’t afford it.”

With several optometrists and ophthalmologists donating their time, the clinic would be able to get to more of the patients who can’t afford to correct everyday vision problems. Russell said he’s optimistic more will decide to pitch in once the clinic makes a move later this year to a bigger Crystal Lake location, which is currently under construction.

Correcting sight can have a much more drastic effect on a person’s life than most notice, Hoban said.

She remembered a time early in the clinic’s history when a child who was new to english came in to correct his vision. Between the language barrier and the poor sight, he’d been incorrectly classified as special ed.

“If kids can’t see, they can’t learn,” Hoban said.

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