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WVU Expanding Eye Care Services to Rural Areas

The Charleston Gazette

January 21, 2010

By Veronica Nett

West Virginians have fairly convenient access to eye care services, but the issue in rural areas is providing specialized care that is generally centralized in Charleston and Morgantown, said Judie Charlton, chairwoman of WVU’s Department of Ophthalmology.

West Virginians face a “pending epidemic” when it comes to their eyesight, the chairwomen of West Virginia University’s Department of Ophthalmology says.

This rate of state residents with glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy is on the rise, Dr Judie Charlton, said Wednesday in an interview with the Gazette.

Both conditions can cause blindness if not treated early, and occur in conjunction with the aging population, smoking and diabetes, Charlton said. West Virginia has one of the oldest populations in the nation and also has some of the highest rates of diabetes and smoking.


In the past three years, the WVU Department of Ophthalmology has steadily expanded its outreach services into Southern West Virginia in an effort to provide more screening services and work with eye care doctors already in the area, Charlton said.

In the past six months, the project included an ophthalmologist – Charlton – allowing the outreach program to perform laser and minor surgery to residents in Mingo County.

West Virginians have fairly convenient access to eye care services throughout the state, Charlton said. The issue in rural areas is providing residents with specialized care that is generally centralized in Charleston and Morgantown, she said.

The institute’s community outreach program, based in Gilbert, is a test site for delivering effective care and screening services for specialized eye conditions to rural residents, she said.

Through its outreach services, the WVU Eye Institute also works directly with schools across the state to help provide the best learning environment possible to students with impaired vision.

The Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Project started in 1996 with a small grant from the West Virginia Lions, and evaluated six children during its first year.

Now, the center evaluates more than 100 children a year throughout the state, in addition to providing continuing services to more than 300 students.

The idea behind services offered through the project is to meet with the child’s parents and teachers to address the student’s needs in the classroom through curriculum, special equipment and how other children in the class view the addition of optical devices, Charlton said.

“We want the children to view it as a cool toy, and not something to make fun of,” she said.

The center also coordinates a number of summer clinics and camps throughout the state that are designed to teach independent living skills and other skills that may not be addressed during students’ regular school year, she said.

The camps draw students from across the state, and also serve as a social connection and support system, she said.

“Many are the only visually impaired child in their school, and have no one to commiserate with,” Charlton said. “They probably learn more from each other than form us.”

For information about the WVU Department of Ophthalmology or the Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Project, visit or call 304-598-4843.