Uninsured musicians are getting a new outlook on life — literally.
Nearly 200 local musicians gathered on Saturday in Austin, Texas to receive a full eye exam as well as vouchers for prescription eyeglasses at no cost. Carolyn Schwartz, executive director for Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), said the response was overwhelming.
"It was first-come first-serve," Schwartz said. "The appointments filled up in a matter of hours."
Ruby Dee, the 45 year-old lead singer of Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers, has been a member of HAAM since moving to Austin last year. Dee said she was impressed by the event, and walked out the door with a prescription in hand.
"It was a really thorough way of addressing the issue of eye health," Dee said. “The event was necessary, well organized, and you can tell that the individuals volunteering really care. I feel so lucky to live in Austin, where we have something like HAAM."
Austin's music scene generates enormous revenue for the city, yet many artists barely make enough to make ends meet.
HAAM, founded in 2005, offers Austin musicians access to affordable health care. While HAAM has provided primary medical and mental health care since its inception, the non-profit discovered that eye health was an important, unaddressed concern for its member musicians. As a result, HAAM approached Prevent Blindness Texas, a non-profit designed to preserve sight through vision screenings and education, to form a partnership.
“We did a survey of our clients to find out what services they would like to see added, and vision health immediately rose to the top,” Schwartz said. “Even though music is a $1 billion dollar industry, the majority of our hardworking musicians earn less than $16,000 per year, which can barely cover basic necessities. Our clients are on the road, and they need to be able to see, just to drive their tour buses or play their instruments.”
Screenings were held at Eye Physicians of Austin by ophthalmologists and optometrists, who have donated their time and expertise.
While this is the first vision screening HAAM and Prevent Blindness Texas have organized, Maria Tripovich, state development and marking director for Prevent Blindness, is excited about the prospect of holding more in the future.
"The more people we can help the better," Tripovich said.
– Caitlin Mangum