Sac State permanently closes vision center, optometry services eliminated

Students petition for services to reopen

Students+exit+The+WELL+at+Sacramento+State+on+April+17%2C+2020.+After+temporarily+closing+due+to+COVID-19+in+March+2020%2C+the+vision+center%2C+located+in+the+WELL%2C+was+permanently+closed+December+2020.

Patrick Posuniak

Students exit The WELL at Sacramento State on April 17, 2020. After temporarily closing due to COVID-19 in March 2020, the vision center, located in the WELL, was permanently closed December 2020.

Emma Hall

After temporarily closing due to COVID-19, Sacramento State’s vision center has permanently closed, prompting outcry from Sac State students who are demanding the center reopen its services.

The center closed in mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19, alongside the various health services on campus. However, unlike its counterparts, the center never reopened and permanently closed in December 2020. 

Lidice Garcimarrero, a 24-year-old biology major at Sac State, started petitioning, urging university administration to reopen services and rehire Dr. Candace Oto, the former optometrist. Having previously worked at the center as a student assistant, Garcimarrero expressed deep concern.

“It’s not fair for all students,” Garcimarrero said. “When I was working there I saw so many people with certain eye conditions. People that have never worn glasses that could have really used them before.”

The vision center previously offered eye exams costing students $20 and glasses averaging $79 according to the petition. The center had diagnosed students with infections, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, brain swelling, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and a brain tumor according to an email response by Oto to The State Hornet

“I am extremely concerned that the students no longer have access to low-cost eye care and prescription glasses and contacts, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when all students are required to do online distance learning,” Oto wrote. It’s a shame when students needlessly struggle to succeed in their classes because they simply cannot see.”

It’s a shame when students needlessly struggle to succeed in their classes because they simply cannot see”

— Dr. Candace Oto

Oto said she examined over 5,000 students in the last three years and it was one of the most popular health services for students on campus.

Ed Mills, Sac State vice president of student affairs, said the vision center closed due to a decreased amount of student usage over the years. 

Mills also attributes the center’s closure to optometry services being an augmented service, which according to California State University’s Policy 943 on University Health Services, are interim services. Because optometry was an augmented service, the vision center’s closure will not affect student fees, according to Mills. 

Optometry services also must have a “justification for student need or demand” to be approved, according to the CSU policy. 

“We’ve experimented over time with being able to offer augmented services, things that aren’t part of the core of the health center. And while we have had some interest, to be honest, it hasn’t been very high,”  Mills said. “It made more sense to us to be able to look at what the main services are that students need… and be able to move our resources there.”

Michelle Yee, a double major in history and art, said she used the vision center’s services in 2019 and that she experienced difficulty making an appointment with the services because “Dr. Oto was booked so far in advance.” 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [COVID-19] was the reason why they wanted to close it,” she said. “But if it was beforehand I don’t believe that at all, I believe that it was used quite a lot.” 

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A screenshot of Sac State’s Health and Counseling Services page from Nov. 23, 2020 lists vision services as “closed due to construction.” Optometry is no longer listed on the page. This screenshot was sent to The State Hornet by an anonymous source.

The vision center was also listed as “closed due to construction” previously on Sac State’s Health and Counseling Services webpage, due to expansion of The WELL. But a photo sent to The State Hornet by an anonymous source who fears retaliation from the university shows the center well-lit and not under construction Dec. 11, 2020.

In regard to sudden closure of the center, Mills said the timing was “coincidental” as the vision center was already closed due to COVID-19 and construction. Mills said the previous closures had no correlation and advised students to seek out local optometry resources now that the university no longer offers the service. 

When asked when the university officially decided to close optometry services, the university did not answer and sent The State Hornet a statement via email. 

“…Sacramento State cares deeply for its students and continues to provide a broad range of health-related benefits, to include but not limited to, basic medical and mental health services,” the statement sent by Mills said. “While Sacramento State no longer offers eye exams on campus, we encourage students to access optometry services in their area.  Should this create a financial hardship, students are encouraged to apply for a Sacramento State CARES grant for assistance.” 

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While Sac State’s website had listed the vision center under construction due the expansion of The WELL, a photo sent anonymously to The State Hornet from Dec. 11, 2020 shows the center well-lit and untouched. This photo was sent anonymously.

The university offers HEERF Emergency Grants for students who were enrolled in the current semester and in good academic standing.

RELATED: Nelsen announces up to $850 direct payments to Sac State students

Due to the volume of applicants, the university’s website states that applications could take up to three weeks for processing. 

Doug Chiappetta, Executive Director of The Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD), an organization that represents health service employees, says the closure of the center will “not stand the test of scrutiny” as the university not only laid off Oto, its only optometrist, but got rid of all optometry services. 

“It’s inconsequential for the people who are making these decisions,” Chiappetta said. “The elimination of one position means the elimination of the entire department. Only one person who does patient services for CSU, so that doesn’t make any sense.”

Chiappetta, who learned about the closure Feb. 12, says he spoke to Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra about the center’s shutdown. UAPD also shared concerns with City Councilman Eric Guerra about the center’s elimination according to Chiappetta. 

Alongside Garcimarrero’s petition, Sac State students have also sent letters to the university to reopen services.

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Yee’s letter asked the university to reconsider the decision to close the vision center. Yee cited the online semester’s effects on eye health and the lack of a decrease in campus fees as reasons to keep the center open. Screenshot provided by Yee.

With the adjustment to online learning, Yee wrote in her letter to the university that having to look at a computer screen all day should be a “big reason” why optometry should reopen as she said staring at screens could cause headaches, eye strain and dry eyes. 

“I have always felt safe and secure at our optometry services knowing this place is all about helping students,” she wrote. “I know when I have nowhere else to turn to… our optometry services is there.”