January 21, 2017

From Shipping Container to Ophthalmology Clinic

Pursuing the vision of a University Health Service staff optometrist, Kellogg faculty members and resident trainees in ophthalmology teamed with U-M professors of architecture to create an ophthalmic care facility in Jamaica.

Shipping container clinic in Jamaica

When Joseph Myers, OD is not caring for students at the University Health Service, he is focused on the needs of patients 1,700 miles away in Jamaica. Since co-founding the Eye Health Institute (EHI) on the island in 2001 with Colorado optometrist Richard Cross, Dr. Myers’ mission trips inspired him and his colleagues at EHI to launch a remarkable project.

At one time, the residents of Sandy Bay had little access to eye care. In May 2016, Kellogg sent a team of eye care providers that included Donna Wicker, OD, U-M assistant professor and director of the Kellogg Optometry and Low Vision section. “Early trips showed us just how great the area’s needs were,” Dr. Myers remarked. “No matter how many exams we performed or pairs of glasses we made, we could help only a fraction of the hundreds who lined up for our services.”

The challenge was shared with Geoffrey Thün, U-M associate professor of Architecture and associate dean for research, and Kathy Velikov, U-M associate professor of Architecture. For a relatively modest cost, could they modify a 20 X 8-foot recycled shipping container into a fully functional clinic environment outfitted in the United States and shipped, unpacked, and set up anywhere in world? The ARC lands in Jamaica The resulting clinic, called an architecturally repurposed container (ARC), was shipped to Jamaica in June 2016 and assembled in just 72 hours by Dr. Myers and a team of local volunteers. The project was supported by Global REACH, the U-M Medical School’s platform to facilitate and promote international research, education and collaboration. It was funded by a grant from the Third Century Initiative, which marks U-M’s 2017 bicentennial and supports creative teaching and scholarship opportunities that address the world’s greatest challenges.

The Sandy Bay Clinic now brings a high level of eye care to area residents. Volunteer optometric and ophthalmic specialists conduct exams, perform corrective procedures, and make glasses. According to Dr. Myers, much of the project’s success is due to the partnership with the Kellogg Eye Center and with David Burke, Ph.D., U-M professor of Human Genetics.

Professor Thün hopes to refine the container and its contents so that “offspring” models can be used elsewhere. Meanwhile, the ARC affords Kellogg a unique platform to teach, learn, train, and conduct research. Kellogg physicians are developing protocols to train local residents in ocular testing and imaging, and are studying the impact the project is having on the health of the community.