The ophthalmology residency program accredited to California Pacific Medical Center has been supported by the Lions Foundation of California-Nevada for over 60 years. This completely unique relationship has resulted in more than 110,000 patient visits receiving free eye care and surgeries. At the San Francisco Lions Eye Clinic, nearly 300 residents and fellows have provided these services, mentored by countless volunteer faculty physicians.
Uninsured patients receiving care at the Lions Eye Clinic are referred by a network of Lions Clubs, expertly guided through their journey by the Program Director who serves as a liaison and patient advocate, supervising all aspects of their care. Recently retired from this post, Mark Paskvan explains that about 400 new patients are seen each year. Free care given to these patients includes surgeries, medications, eyeglasses, contact lens, and prosthetic eyes. Frequently, patients suffer from a range of untreated health issues requiring laboratory tests, EKGs and MRIs prior to their procedures, provided by CPMC.
Patients traveling from their homes in Northern California and Nevada often are required to spend several days in San Francisco, resulting in about 450 motel stays yearly. These costs are underwritten by the Lions, and are also coordinated by the Program Director.
It has been the Lions Clinic good fortune to have had two long serving Program Directors. The late Barbara Anger was appointed Director of Operations in April of 1968 and served for 27 years when she was succeeded by Mark Paskvan who retired in 2023. These administrators have provided the essential link between community Lions Clubs, their patients facing cultural, language and economic issues and the myriad of health professionals providing healing services.
Nationwide, Lions Clubs have made preserving sight a primary goal since Helen Keller first asked for their support in 1925. Bay Area Lions took this commitment to an entirely new level in 1960. At that time Stanford Medical School was moved from San Francisco to Palo Alto, leaving behind an ophthalmology faculty along with an eye clinic stripped bare. Lions’ leaders, led by Joseph Giuffre, Leonardo S. Bacci and A. Bud Mason well understood the community need to continue vital eye care services, so they created a foundation known today as the Lions Eye Foundation of California and Nevada. It is unique in the United States in its support for both an Ophthalmology Residency Program and for the clinic serving needy patients.
Together, the Lions and the nascent Ophthalmology department led by Dr. Jerry Bettman collaborated to reclaim the abandoned eye clinic located in the basement of the old Stanford Hospital. The long-standing relationship of Lions and ophthalmology was launched and in March of 1962 the Lions Clinic opened, treating 33 patients in its first 12 days of operation. In 2019, nearly 4500 patient visits were logged at the clinic’s new home at the PVF Eye Institute.
The Lions and the residency program have a uniquely intertwined relationship consisting of financial support and patient referrals. The Lions continue to purchase needed equipment while continuously underwriting the costs of patient treatment. In 2018 when the Lions Eye Clinic moved from California Pacific Medical Center to new facilities at the Eye Institute, the Lions generously outfitted all examination rooms.
Today nearly 9000 member Lions from 69 counties in Northern California and Nevada support the work of the clinic by referring members of their communities to the clinic. Lions underwrite the costs of transporting patients to the San Francisco clinic from as far away as Las Vegas and California’s northern most counties. Lions actively network with eye care providers in their local communities identifying and referring uninsured patients who cannot afford their care.
The Lions Foundation does not include all Lions clubs, only those willing to provide financial support as well as referrals. During the 70’s President Maury Perstein doubled the number of member clubs in a span of three years. Don Stanaway served for 30 years as Executive Director, increasing the number of member clubs while strengthening the relationship with Pacific Vision Foundation which supports the physicians providing free care to Lions sponsored patients. Representing Lions’ interests with Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center, Executive Director John Schroeder served with distinction for 4 years and has been succeeded by current ED, John Posey who has innovated collaboration with far flung community health clinics to increase referrals for needed eye care to the Lions Eye Clinic.
The Lions commitment to the residency and clinic provides a powerful force for community good and it is particularly impressive given present-day challenges for all national service clubs to maintain membership and funding levels throughout the country. Executive Director Posey attributes LEF’s impressive service record to the deeply shared values of helping, serving and strengthening community ties.