NYCHA and Columbia University offer free eye care to Harlem tenants

NEW YORK (CBS New York) – Taking care of your eye health may not be a top priority if you are overwhelmed by the pandemic. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and a partnership between NYCHA and Columbia University is making eye care easier for some tenants.

The St. Nicholas Houses Senior Citizens Center turned into an eye center on Tuesday, with optometrists from Columbia University. The Manhattan Vision Screening Study examines the benefits of early detection of eye disease. Not only were the services free; glasses too.

Dr. Lisa Hark is a professor of ophthalmic sciences and the study’s principal investigator. She said their partnership with Warby Parker has made a huge difference in the response.

“They’re more likely to come to the optometrist for that eye exam because they know they’re going to be getting glasses,” Hark said.

Doctors say you may not notice conditions like glaucoma because symptoms develop slowly.

“When you lose your peripheral vision, your brain adapts so that you don’t realize you have it until very late stages, and then it’s irreversible,” Hark explained.

Tenant Tyrone Ball was eager to get his astigmatism checked. Dr. Daniel Diamond’s advice helped him find the perfect prescription.

“Once you get past -6 like you are, your eyes are long and that may just make you more at risk of getting things I can’t see just by looking straight behind your eyes,” said the optometrist in Ball.

Seventy-five percent of people who have participated in the study so far have failed their initial eye exams and have been referred for follow-up care.

Ball is among half of the patients studied who have not had an eye exam since before the pandemic. It is recommended that anyone over 40 get them every year.

“Let’s be real about it,” Ball said. “I haven’t had a check since 2019.”

Cost and convenience are big hurdles, but Ball says this appointment was a first step to taking care of her health again.

Three other NYCHA properties will host eye exams and eyewear giveaways over the next two months. Tenants of Marshall, Audubon and Bethune Houses can check for planning updates.

The researchers will follow up with each site one year after the initial visits to check on their patients and their progress.

If you have any advice on events in Harlem, please contact CBS2’s Jessi Mitchell by clicking here.