On Saturday, August 15, the MacDougall Eye Center at Cottage Hospital hosted a free eye-surgery clinic coordinated by Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International. The surgeries were performed by doctors and surgical staff donating their time, with Alcon Labs, Cardinal Health, and AMO donating supplies and Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics donating the necessary medical exams and paperwork.
The nine patients seven of an initial sixteen were disqualified due to scheduling conflicts and doctor-determined ineligibility are all high-needs cases whom have passed SEE’s extensive screening process and proved that the surgeries would be otherwise financially unfeasible. Their eyesight-restoring surgeries are the result of nearly eighteen months of planning between SEE and Cottage Hospital; said clinical manager Elizabeth Link, “This is the first time we have offered this service as a collaborative surgical day clinic. We have for years discussed that it was a shame that more couldn’t be done for our local people who fall through the cracks in healthcare.”
The expensive surgeries appraised by Link at prices potentially breaching the $10,000 mark, not including anesthesiologist fees will likely remain unreachable for the twenty-one applicants who did not meet the criteria. And while these patients may be referred to Cottage Hospital’s Eye Center through SEE’s Santa Barbara Vision Care Program established in the 1980s in response to the need for eye surgeries Link argued that “in this new healthcare climate it has become almost impossible to get cataracts and some of the other non-life threatening conditions approved for surgery.”
According to Dr. Michael Paveloff one of the five doctors who worked for free the surgery day was created to address the backlog of patients primarily waiting for a 30-minute cataract surgery. Although patients who do not have the means to receive the eye surgeries they need are usually worked into the schedules of doctors volunteering their services, Paveloff hopes that this type of event will become an annual routine; “It’s been great” said Paveloff during a short mid-morning break on Saturday. Santa Barbara Vision Care Program Coordinator Natalia Ramirez reported that all nine surgeries went smoothly; the first surgery began at around 8am and the final surgery finished at around 1:30 p.m.
SEE, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit humanitarian organization, was founded in 1974 “to provide worldwide medical, surgical, and educational services through ophthalmic surgeons with the primary objective of restoring sight and transforming lives.” Since its foundation by Harry S. Brown, M.D., SEE has affected over 370,000 individuals worldwide and in 2008 supported the provision of over 10,000 surgeries in 37 countries.