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NYCHA, Columbia University Bring Free Eye Care To Harlem Tenants

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Taking care of your eye health may not be a top priority if you are burdened 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 Tuesday, with optometrists from Columbia University. The Manhattan Vision Screening Study is examining the benefits of early detection of eye disease. Not only were the services free; so were the glasses.

Dr. Lisa Hark is a professor of Ophthalmic Sciences and the principal investigator for the study. She said their partnership with Warby Parker has made a huge difference in the response.

"They're more likely to show up to the optometrist to get that eye exam because they know that they're going to get glasses," Hark said.

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

"When you lose your peripheral vision, your brain adapts so you don't realize you have it until the very late stages and then it's irreversible," Hark explained.

Tenant Tyrone Ball was eager to check the status of his astigmatism. Dr. Daniel Diamond's guidance helped him find the perfect prescription.

"Once you get over -6 like you are, your eyes are long and that can just make you at higher risk for having stuff that I can't see just by looking straight in back of your eyes," the optometrist told Ball.

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

Ball is among the half of patients studied who have not had an eye exam since before the pandemic. Anyone over 40 is recommended to get them annually.

"Let's be realistic about this," Ball reflected. "I haven't had a check-up since 2019."

Cost and convenience are big barriers, but Ball says this appointment was a first step towards taking care of his health once again.

Three more NYCHA properties will host eye exams and eyeglass giveaways in the next two months. Tenants in Marshall, Audubon and Bethune Houses can look for updates about scheduling.

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

If you have a tip about the happenings in Harlem, please reach out to CBS2's Jessi Mitchell by clicking here.

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