After years of planning, the tribe has officially opened an optometry program at the Dena’ina Wellness Center.
The program, managed by Dr. Will Phillips, began serving un’ina earlier this year.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to start a new program and help provide a much needed service,” Phillips said. “It’s good to be able to provide the service, and there’s definitely a need for it.”
The program offers examinations, contact lens fitting, disease management, special testing, and surgical referrals.
Phillips said there are two common conditions that affect eyesight – diabetes and glaucoma – that he can help treat.
Glasses are not currently offered in-house, but Phillips said they might be added in the future.
“We’re working on it, but we don’t know how that will take shape,” he said. “There are still a lot of things we are going to figure out.”
The program does offer Medicaid eyewear, giving un’ina access to a basic set of frames that the Alaska Medicaid Program uses. The tribe verifies that the un’ina is eligible and electronically orders glasses through the official Medicaid provider.
Most appointments will last between 30 and 45 minutes, Phillips said, and un’ina are encouraged to bring any glasses or contact lenses they wear. Appointments are available from about 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
Phillips, who joined the tribe in 2016, previously worked in private practice in Texas as well as with the United States Army as a civilian employee at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, before studying at the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, Ill.
He encouraged un’ina to schedule annual check-ups, even if their eyes are seemingly healthy.
“It’s really about prevention,” Phillips said. “Eyes are something that if they aren’t causing you issues, they are off the radar. But it’s really important to stay on top of it.”
Phillips’ team completed more than 100 eye exams in February and he said he is happy to be serving un’ina and looks forward to growing the new program.
“It’s satisfying to put everything together,” Phillips said. “The tribe has been great to work with.”
To make an appointment or receive additional information, please call the Dena’ina Wellness Center at 907-335-7500.