Solving Social Distancing During Eye Exams - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Solving Social Distancing During Eye Exams

Dr. Silvia Orengo-Nania, Eye Care Line executive, and Leandro Martinez, a carpenter with the Construction Team, display the new sneeze guards designed for the eye examination equipment.

Dr. Silvia Orengo-Nania, Eye Care Line executive, and Leandro Martinez, a carpenter with the Construction Team, display the new sneeze guards designed for the eye examination equipment.

By Todd Goodman
Thursday, April 2, 2020

Houston VA doctors can’t always adhere to social distancing guidelines, especially ophthalmologists who must be nice and close to exam a Veteran’s eyes. This led to a collaboration between the Eye Clinic and Facilities Management Service (FMS) to fabricate 50 large, plexiglass sneeze guards to protect both Veteran and provider.

The idea came from Dr. Silvia Orengo-Nania, Eye Care Line executive.

“We are about six inches from our patients when we examine them,” said Orengo-Nania. “They are breathing on us and we are breathing on them. I wanted to come up with a protection in case we accidently sneeze or cough during the examination.”

She contacted FMS and within minutes construction staff was in the clinic to make a design template for the eye exam machines. Once the template was approved, it took two days to complete the project. 

“The providers are risking their own safety to take care of our Veterans so if this gives them some sense of security and protection, I think that’s great,” said Jeanette Butler, FMS chief. “It helps them do their jobs more efficiently without worrying about their well-being. It’s a small thing that we were able to do. I’m just glad we had the opportunity to help.”

Carpenter Leandro Martinez and Dr. Silvia Orengo-Nania, Eye Care Line executive, demonstrate the distance between doctor and patient and the benefit of the new sneeze protectors that Facilities Management Service produced for the clinic.

Carpenter Leandro Martinez and Dr. Silvia Orengo-Nania, Eye Care Line executive, demonstrate the distance between doctor and patient and the benefit of the new sneeze protectors that Facilities Management Service produced for the clinic.

When Orengo-Nania began her career in ophthalmology, everyone had protective shields on their exam equipment. But people felt they were in the way and got sick of them. Eventually, they were removed and replaced with a shield no bigger than a small notecard—which offered little to no germ protection.

“Now, everyone is trying to buy shields like we have from different companies but they are all on backorder and super expensive,” said Orengo-Nania. “It was really great to have something retro-fitted.”

That the shields were created in house saved the medical center both time and money. The project was such a success that the construction team also made protective plexiglass devices for members of the Operative Care Line to use when performing surgeries.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Orengo-Nania. “I can’t tell you how happy I am with how it turned out. It was a collaborative team effort that I really enjoyed. Those guys are awesome.”

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