The new UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children. Courtesy UC San Diego Health

A new UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children hit the roads Wednesday, driving to schools in San Diego County to serve low-income families in need of eye exams.

The EyeMobile is a 33-foot-long furnished recreational vehicle with two exam rooms, as well as a waiting area for children and families. It also has a television for the children to watch while they wait for their exam and a wall area with a selection of eye frames.

The new vehicle, part of a program of UCSD Health, was funded by an estate gift from a former patient. It is scheduled to visit around 250 preschools this coming year in underserved areas at no cost to families. It replaces the previous EyeMobile that had been in service for nearly 15 years.

“The families we serve do not have another way to access eye exams,” said Iliana Molina, director of the EyeMobile program. “Some don’t even have transportation and others must decide between getting milk or getting eyeglasses for their kids.”

“The new EyeMobile will allow us to continue providing a critical service to families. When children can see, they are able to learn, which then expands the educational opportunities for under-represented students,” she said.

The new vehicle is intended to help achieve the program’s long-term goal of providing eye care services to 20,000 underserved, low-income children per year.

According to a UCSD release, the program includes vision screening, dilated eye examinations by an optometrist, a free pair of glasses if needed, follow-up monitoring with teachers and parents and referrals for specialist care as needed.

Additionally, there is bilingual parent and teacher information to teach families about the importance of eye/brain development and “how eye care plays a crucial role in preparing children to learn.”

“Early detection and treatment have proven to reduce the negative impact vision problems may have on a child’s development,” said Rachel Lee, optometrist with the EyeMobile. “If left untreated, conditions such as amblyopia could lead to irreversible vision loss and psychosocial effects. The EyeMobile program provides children with the best sight so they can learn at their maximum potential.”

The UCSD Shiley EyeMobile program launched in 2001. Since then, more than 250,000 children across San Diego County have been screened.

In 2021-2022, the UC San Diego Shiley EyeMobile for Children traveled 8,226 miles and delivered 895 pairs of prescription glasses to students.

“My favorite part of the experience is delivering the eyeglasses to the students at school and watching their reaction when they can see clearly for the first time,” Molina said. “I will never forget the first time I delivered a pair of glasses. The little boy was amazed that I had freckles. He gently touched my face and could not believe he could see that much detail.”

“It was an emotional moment and made me realize the profound impact of the program,” she said.

According to UCSD, the former EyeMobile will be retrofitted to provide senior vision care services throughout San Diego County.

City News Service contributed to this article.