Gregory Bowers, USF Foundation
In August, Ramesh Ayyala, MD, made a $10,000 gift to start the Eye Care For All fund, which will help the uninsured and underserved population in Tampa Bay to receive free eye care. Dr. Ayyala is a professor and chair of the USF Health Eye Institute in the Morsani College of Medicine and also holds the James and Heather Gills Chair in Ophthalmology.
Since joining USF Health in 2018, Dr. Ayyala has been working to serve the indigent community by transforming the USF Health Eye Clinic to accommodate appointments for these patients. He began noticing a lot of patients checking in to the emergency room at Tampa General Hospital with “eye emergencies,” a lot of which could have been prevented or treated earlier if the patient would have been seen at a routine eye exam.
“What was missing at the USF Health Eye Clinic was a charity clinic that would take care of indigent patients with no health insurance or underinsured, so about two years ago I started to reach out to leadership and the community. Bringing attention to this problem has been a very slow process simply because the community is facing so many other problems. With the arrival of COVID-19, it became more important for us to focus on people who have lost their jobs and consequently their insurance,” said Dr. Ayyala.
After a year of slowly trying to bring awareness to the lack of vision care for the indigent and uninsured population, Dr. Ayyala took matters into his own hands and reached out the Department of Ophthalmology’s development officer to find out more of what it would take to start a fund to help this population.
“From my point of view, we should establish a system of taking care of the indigent and those who have lost their insurance. I thought I should jump start this process myself instead of waiting for other people to do it. I said to myself, ‘let’s do it.’”
The USF Health Eye Institute Health Park Clinic location had been closed since the start of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic earlier this year but with the support of Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, and Tampa General Hospital leadership, Dr. Ayyala and his team from the USF Health Eye Institute helped to reopen the clinic on the first and third Fridays of the month to begin taking appointments for those without vision insurance. On the alternate Fridays, a similar clinic was established to see patients at the USF Health Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare. The partnership between the two locations is important as it brings latest technology that is accessible at the Morsani Center to those patients at the Health Park Clinic.
“Restoring vision is a beautiful thing to do. It’s the most efficient thing that one person can do to contribute to the society. Cataract surgery is probably the most effective surgery that you can think of that will restore the human body to its youth. It is a reversible loss of vision so if you perform the surgery, the patient’s vision comes back. Glaucoma, on the other hand, is the leading cause of permanent blindness of people worldwide. We can stop it to a certain degree, but we need the correct operation at the correct time but of course, patients need the resources for this. All of these procedures cost money. It is my hope that donations to the Eye Care For All fund will help fund these procedures in the indigent population. To the donors, I promise them one thing: this fund is meant for the indigent care, and we will make sure that the resources are used for that purpose and that purpose only.”
Dr. Ayyala credits Dr. James Gills, founder of the St. Luke’s Cataract & Laser Institute and who established the James and Heather Gills Chair in Ophthalmology at USF, for inspiring him to make philanthropy a priority in his everyday work. Dr. Ayyala hopes that he will fulfill the mission of Dr. Gills by tending to the community in need. Over the last year, the Department of Ophthalmology created educational programs for the community to learn more about eye care and is now looking to make a larger impact with this new fund.
“Dr. Gills, I’ve come to know him very well over the years. He has been a source of inspiration not only to me, but to every other ophthalmologist because his story is an example of what you can achieve in your lifetime, and I’ve taken that to heart. I want him to know that his generous donation to set up this chair that I’ve been appointed to inspires me every day to reach out into the community to see how I can best help.”