St. Joseph's Hospital Administrator Skip Gjolberg, Dr. Thomas Mauger, city and county officials, hospital board members and B-U Chamber of Commerce members celebrate the opening of St. Joseph's Hospital's new ophthalmology clinic Tuesday.

BUCKHANNON – The new WVU Medicine Ophthalmology Clinic at St. Joseph’s hospital marked its official opening with a Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting Tuesday afternoon.

The new clinic welcomes four cataract surgeons and a medical retinal specialist from WVU Medicine’s Eye Institute.

Dr. Thomas Mauger, chair of the WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, said establishing a clinic in town is important because these services need to be easily reached.

“I think for the patients there, the transportation issue is not a trivial thing,” Mauger said. “A lot of the medical retinal patients need treatments in their eyes on a monthly basis for macular degeneration and diabetes. If you don’t stay on that scale, they can go blind.”

“It’s very difficult for them to maintain that kind of schedule coming up to Morgantown or wherever they have to go,” Mauger added.

So, what is ophthalmology anyway?

Ophthalmology is the branch of medical science that deals with the anatomy, functioning and diseases of the eye. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors; however, optometrists, who primarily treat vision problems and some eye disorders, are doctors of optometry, not medical doctors.

St. Joseph’s Hospital Administrator Skip Gjolberg said the clinic was a major investment for the hospital – and an important one.

“There’s a real need because besides this location, there’s really nothing heading to the east,” Gjolberg said. “I think there’s one ophthalmologist, so there’s a big need for people. Otherwise, if you’re east of Elkins and east of that, I think you have to go to Virginia, to get an ophthalmologist.”

Mauger said the lack of ophthalmology clinics is a problem for the whole state of West Virginia.

“It’s a problem for the whole state,” he said. “[Current] providers are retiring, and new younger doctors do not want to go into solo practices in small towns, and they go to groups where they’re supported and the complexity of running an operation like this is really much, much higher than it was 20 years ago.”

Dr. Thomas Mauger and St. Joseph’s Hospital Administrator Skip Gjolberg at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting for the hospital’s new ophthalmology clinic.

According to a press release from the hospital, Dr. Allison Bardes, Dr. Lingo Lai, Mauger and Dr. Lee A. Wiley will be performing cataract surgeries, while Dr. Carol Laxson is the medical retinal specialist.

Mauger said they hope to expand the clinic in the future.

“The four of us are going to be doing the cataract surgery, which is the main surgical procedure, and then Dr. Laxson will do the medical retinal, which is diabetes and macular degeneration treatments,” Mauger said. “Over time, we hope to kind of expand things and bring some more sub-specialists down.”

The clinic is located on the first floor of St. Joseph’s Physician Office Center at 94 West Main Street. Patients who wish to see a physician in the clinic must first contact their optometrist for a referral, according to a hospital press release.