UC San Diego’s Shiley EyeMobile brings optometry care to underserved children


Hannah Saunders


This month the UC San Diego’s new and improved Shiley EyeMobile rolled into action by bringing optometry care to low-income and underserved children at schools in San Diego County. The Shiley EyeMobile for Children is a program of UC San Diego Health and is funded by an estate gift from a former patient.

Within the 33-foot-long recreational vehicle are two eye exam rooms, a wall area with a wide selection of eyeglass frames, and a waiting area for children and families equipped with a television to watch during waiting times.

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


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The new EyeMobile will allow the team to continue providing services to families, which include vision screening, dilated eye exams, a free pair of glasses if needed, follow-up monitoring with teachers and parents, and referrals to subspecialist care as needed. The unit also provides bilingual information for teachers and families about the importance of eye and brain health on 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. If left untreated, conditions such as amblyopia could lead to irreversible vision loss and psychosocial effects,” said EyeMobile optometrist Richard Lee, who added that the program provides children with the best sight so they can learn at their maximum potential.

Since its launch in the year 2000, EyeMobile has served over 250,000 children across San Diego County. From 2021 to 2022, EyeMobile 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.”

The new EyeMobile will assist the program with achieving its long-term goal of providing eye care services to 20,000 low-income children annually. The former EyeMobile vehicle will be retrofitted to provide senior vision care services throughout the county. State of Reform reached out to Shiley EyeMobile about the retrofitted EyeMobile and did not hear back at the time of publication. 

What’s the program’s key to success? EyeMobile claims the use of the latest information technologies, including electronic medical records, dedicated multilingual staff, and student and community volunteers keep the program’s gears turning. 

“When I go to bed each night, I know we did something good, and it’s incredibly rewarding,” Molina said. “I considered medical school or law school before I chose this career path. There is not a day that goes by where I regret my decision. I am fully dedicated to the EyeMobile program, our amazing team, parents and teachers, school administrators, and our donors.”