For the poorest and uninsured people in the area, eye treatment can be daunting and difficult. But about 2,000 people a year have found a way to get the help they need. Florida Lions Eye Clinic provides state-of-the-art free care well below the poverty line for children, families and adults who have no health insurance and who meet qualification guidelines. Now the Bonita Springs center has a new director who hopes to bring the services to even more people.
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Robin Goldstone Garcia recently took over the helm of the little yellow building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Bonita. The new managing director comes with a wealth of experience, both in business and personal areas. Garcia graduated from SUNY Oswego in New York with a degree in psychology and business administration and began working in the software industry for 20 years and then as a financial advisor. But one personal journey also led her to volunteer for Lighthouse of Collier County. Their son was born with Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes deafness. At the age of 12, her son also began to lose his eyesight.
“So I started looking for information and started volunteering with Lighthouse,” she explained.
Soon they asked her to become the executive director of this organization. Years later, she became assistant director of the Florida Division for the Blind and moved to Tallahassee. But after just a year in this job, she realized it wasn’t for her.
“I just felt like I could do more at the community level than at the state level,” she said.
After a year off during the pandemic, Garcia got the job at the eye center of the Lions Club in Bonita. As she settles into her new job, Garcia dreams of goals to help even more people with ophthalmology.
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“We’re the only free eye clinic in the state of Florida,” she said, explaining that they are the only ones that offer free eye care services only. “I would like to see we have field offices 10 years from now so we can provide services outside of Lee and Collier counties. This is completely my dream. “
It has to do with her second dream – to bring people to the clinic. The eye center sees mostly people from Lee and Collier counties, but anyone in the state who meets the requirements is eligible. However, Garcia says that even those who live in the county sometimes struggle to get there.
“There are so many people in our community in need of eye care right now, but transportation is a struggle,” she said. “They often make an appointment and then have to cancel. One of the things I want to do is try to provide transportation. “
While certain eye surgeries can be performed on-site, others cannot. People who need cataract surgery or who have serious eye injuries must be referred to an ophthalmologist.
“The other thing I want to do is get ophthalmologists and other centers involved to offer pro bono,” she said. “That’s very difficult. What we do is ask them for a free service. One of my missions is to hire these ophthalmologists. “
Garcia said patients who need surgery outside of their facility continue to receive help.
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“We have this small surgery fund that we’re trying to increase,” she explained. “It’s limited, so we have to prioritize. In an emergency, we’ll find the money. If it is a cataract that has not progressed, you can be on a waiting list until we receive funding. “
The eye center is sponsored by the Lion’s Club, the Florida Association of Free, and. financed
Charity Clinics, State of Florida, United Way, Florida Lions Foundation for the Blind, NCEF, SW Florida Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Collier County, various churches, foundations, clubs, and individual donors. Receiving further scholarships is also at the top of their list of priorities.
Her list of goals continues with a plan to launch a vision initiative in Lee County, similar to that in Collier County.
“One of the things that is very close to my heart is the vision initiative,” she emphasized. “I want to do it as something where people come together to focus on people in need of eye care. I really want to bring this group of people together. “
Another goal is to educate people about the center and also to convey to undocumented customers that they are welcome and protected.
“That’s one of my challenges right now,” she explained.
There are newsletters and press releases, but Garcia knows that’s not enough. She has to go to areas where people need help.
“We try to go to as many health fairs as possible,” she said. “We didn’t make it last year. Out in the community at demonstrations; that’s where people find out about you. Much of it is word of mouth. We have to go where they work and where the real need is. “
The clinic now sees 40-50 people a week. After being closed for a while during the pandemic, customers and volunteer doctors are returning.
Garcia said the eye center has so many heartwarming stories about helping people. There is the eight-year-old who always thought her vision was blurry until she got her first pair of glasses, which not only improved her eyesight but also her reading and writing. There is the man who had advanced glaucoma and was in danger of losing his eyesight, and now that risk is over, and there is the man who thought he had to stop working and take care of his family when pterygium caused him that a fibrovascular tissue extended to the skin of the cornea and iris. After the operation, his eyesight improved and he went back to work. Garcia said that even the little things are inspiring.
“We are giving away sunglasses and reading glasses and these women came from one of the homeless shelters and tried on sunglasses and it was so heartwarming,” she said.
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Garcia said she knew the importance of this eye care routine.
“My son with Usher Syndrome, knowing that his eye disease will get worse over time, and the stress and anxiety I went through,
I can’t imagine not being able to provide the care he needs if I can’t, ”she said. “My main focus is getting patients through the door and making sure their eyesight is as good as possible. Something as simple as being able to play tag with their kids, or see their grandchildren, or have a permanent job. Our eyes play such an important role in this. I hope that what I can bring to this organization will help bring someone to sight.
“We have a vision here.”