“I’m glad you are here!”
With those words and a big smile, Grace Long pushed her walker through the door and greeted Dr. Jessica Schuman, the optometrist who makes house calls. On this Friday morning, Dr. Schuman had set up her equipment at the Health and Wellness Center of Kavod Senior Life, and her schedule for the day was packed.
Grace arrived decked out for St. Patrick’s Day, with a Kelly Green hat and green and gold beads around her neck. But she had another reason to celebrate. Today, she hoped, she would be able to get new glasses that would help her see better. All it took was a short elevator ride to a higher floor in her building at Kavod.
“I just came upstairs from the third floor!” Grace said as she settled into a chair in Dr. Schuman’s office for the day. “It’s nice she is here because I don’t have to get in a van, and I don’t have to go out in all kinds of weather.”
For the next 45 minutes, Dr. Schuman offered Grace a comprehensive eye exam that would be familiar to anyone who has ever needed their vision corrected or the health of their eyes checked.
Dr. Schuman dilated Grace’s eyes with drops to get a good look at the middle and back of her eye. She listened to Grace’s history of macular degeneration which had severely limited her vision in one eye. She checked Grace’s side vision in her better eye and pronounced it “perfect.” She used a tonometer to check the pressure in Grace’s eyes and told her there was no sign of glaucoma. She used a lightweight portable retinal camera to take photos of the back of Grace’s eyes and assured her that the nerve was normal. She checked the prescription in Grace’s glasses in an autorefractor. Grace dutifully read the letters from the eye chart on the wall as best she could, and then Dr. Schuman told her what she wanted to hear: “I think we can help you see better at a distance.”
By the time she left the appointment, Grace had picked out low-cost frames for new glasses from a selection Dr. Schuman had brought with her. The glasses will have her name in them, just in case they get mixed up with another resident at Kavod. Then, Dr. Schuman turned her attention to the next patient in her waiting area.
“At the end of the day, these are people who want good care, and they don’t want to feel like a burden,” Dr. Schuman said. “How wonderful that the care can come to them.”
‘I don’t avoid a challenge’
The seeds for Dr. Schuman’s business, Mile High Senior Eyecare, were planted long ago, during her days in optometry school at SUNY College of Optometry in New York City when she did a rotation that sent her to Arizona. She had been raised in New York City and received her B.S. in Neurobiology at Binghamton University in upstate New York, but this training offered her the chance to sample life in another part of the country.
“It gave me a different view of how to live,” she said. “When my husband and I visited Colorado, we thought the mountains were beautiful and the people were friendly. And since we moved here, it has exceeded my expectations.”
After she moved to Colorado in 2018, Dr. Schuman worked for a national optometry chain before switching to private practice. She is a mother to two small boys, Max and Eli, and she is a caring daughter-in-law. Her husband’s father is in a nursing home in New York, and the family would like to move him closer. When she started researching nursing homes in the Denver metro area, she would ask, “What kind of eye care do you provide?”
The answer was usually the same: “We don’t have any, but you are welcome to take him out somewhere.”
That plan—to travel with an elderly person who is often frail or has mobility challenges—is, Dr. Schuman says, “doable but difficult.” She knows because she grew up living two blocks from her grandparents in New York.
“We were always driving my grandparents to appointments,” she said. “I understood the weight of responsibility this places on a family. I realized I could ease some of that burden.”
She began researching what it would take to open a full-service optometry practice that was completely portable. She networked and built a foundational relationship with nursing homes, senior living communities, senior day care facilities, home health care agencies, and organizations that serve the disabled. She familiarized herself with her future clientele by volunteering with Aging Resources of Douglas County, becoming what she calls an “elder Uber,” driving seniors to appointments.
She bought the equipment she would need so that she would “not have to turn anyone away.” That included all the tools she used with Grace and more—including a one-pound slit lamp that checks the interior structure of the eye and can help her diagnose cataracts.
“Even if a patient cannot sit up or speak, I can do an exam,” she says. “I don’t avoid a challenge.”
She went through the process of being approved by insurance companies, including Medicare. Finally, she acquired a large cart, so that she can load and move all the equipment found in any optometrist’s office to any location, including private homes.
‘This is a mitzvah’
All of Dr. Schuman’s equipment is the latest technology, but she set out to market her new business in the most traditional way—knocking on doors. That’s how she arrived at JEWISHcolorado—making an impromptu visit to an organization that might be interested in her new business.
“I’m a Jewish entrepreneur, and I believe in Jews supporting Jews,” she said. “I wanted to find people I could help, get in touch with my Jewish roots, and give back to my community.”
Schuman is also marketing her practice online where she lists more than a dozen ways a facility can differentiate itself by offering her services to its residents. She does not charge a facility fee to see patients, and she does not charge to write a prescription for a patient. She has schooled herself in knowing the correct ways to bill her services so that fees do not come out of her patients’ pockets if they are covered by insurance.
“My grandparents lived the life of people on a fixed income,” she said. “I want to feed my family, but I also want to do the right thing.”
Schuman says she “really thought about where I can fit in to solve problems.” She can “co-manage” post-cataract surgical care with another provider so that she can see patients for multiple post-surgical visits, saving family members the time it takes to transport a loved one to follow-up appointments. For patients with chronic dry eyes who are constantly having to fill prescriptions for eye drops, she offers punctal plugs. She even makes emergency house calls within a limited geographic area.
With this business, Dr. Jessica Schuman set out to find a new professional path. Along the way, she has opened new doors to her Jewish heritage.
“This is a mitzvah,” she says. “I get to show my children that we are kind to others and try to make this world a better place. I get to combine my Judaism and my profession in the love and care for others.”