HARRISBURG — The State of Illinois, U.S. Army Reserve and U.S. Army joined with the Delta Regional Authority and community partners to provide medical mission to Saline County and the surrounding area. Life-changing medical, dental and eye care and health education services were made available during the mission.

Capt. Justin Knapp, an optometrist with the 24th Medical Detachment-Optometry out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and his group provided eye care for residents coming to the clinic.

“The patents that come in here are — I’ll be quite honest — in need of our care,” Knapp said.

Knapp said they had been picking up some eye disease and referring patients to screening for diabetes. They were encountering patients with common problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and a few at risk for glaucoma.

If a patient had a vision problem and needed single vision glasses, they could, in most cases, walk out with a pair of glasses and improved vision. Knapp said they had a small selection of frames to choose from, including some children’s frames.

“People come out here and we can change lives in a matter of hours,” DRA Chairman Chris Caldwell said.

Knapp said the two doctors and eye care team was able to satisfy the needs of 30 percent of those receiving services. About 70 percent will move on to see a doctor for further care.

“We are seeing patients who have gone three to five years without an updated prescription,” Knapp said. “As an eye doctor, we want to get people in yearly.”

Those who had a qualifying prescription for glasses could get a pair free of charge. The order went to the mobile lab, where Sgt. Travaughn Jacobs and Sgt. Stephanie Brooks and other made their glasses.

Each patient has a different axis and focal point,” Jacobs said.

Brooks operated the machine that cuts the lenses. Lenses start at a 70 millimeter circle. They are ground to the proper prescription, then cut for the frames. She said the machine perfectly cuts the lens to frame shape and size. The lens is then popped into the frame and double-checked. From the lab, they go to check where patients will receive their new glasses.

Caldwell said a person who does not feel well physically will not do well in any area of life.

“At the end of the day, these are all people who walk out on a path to better health which improves their ability to earn money in the work force,” Caldwell said.

He used the optometric services as an example, saying you have to see well enough to read in most jobs. Just getting a new pair of glasses with the proper prescription and improve your ability to work and earn money.

Other community partners included the following:

Dental Safari of Marion provided pediatric dental care alongside the military team caring for adults. They gave out tooth brushes and tooth paste to dental patients. Dr. Dwayne Summers, a dentist with Dental Safari, said patients received education in brushing and flossing.

Egyptian Health Department provided continuity of care for those who received medical care who require follow up care.

Ferrell Hospital provided vouchers for free mammograms.

Harrisburg High School and Middle School student volunteers assisted with patient flow and provided support services.

The City of Harrisburg and Harrisburg Middle School hosted the clinic location.

Harrisburg Medical Center, IlliniCare, Ferrell Hospital, Illinois Department of Employment Security, University of Illinois, Southeastern Illinois College, Ameren, Harrisburg School District, Dorrisville Baptist Church, Saline County Chamber of Commerce and Wooded Hills provided information tables, support personnel or provided food and water for personnel.

State Sen. Dale Fowler, who went through Delta Leadership Institute’s academy in 2008-2009 and is a member of Delta Leadership Network, both DRA programs, said the health mission has been great beneficial for the area.

“I think the state of Illinois is fortunate to be a part of Delta Regional Authority, Fowler said.

By Friday afternoon, the medical mission had performed 2,035 procedures and seen 575 patients from 10 counties.

“Not only are we providing free services to patients, Department of Defense is providing training – real world training – to the military,” Caldwell said.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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