MetroHealth's Dr. Thomas Steinemann Honored for Advocacy
About 20 years ago, Dr. Thomas L. Steinemann noticed an alarming trend at MetroHealth Medical Center’s bustling emergency department: A record number of young people with blinding eye infections.
The cause? Over-the-counter, cosmetic contact lenses – many of which had been purchased at gas stations, convenience stores, costume shops and the like. Dr. Steinemann, a highly regarded ophthalmologist who joined MetroHealth in 1999, knew something had to change.
“For many young people, these lenses were just another piece of disposable merchandise to change their appearance,” Dr. Steinemann said. “They weren’t worn for medical reasons but for fun – fun that could quickly turn dangerous.”
Because of Dr. Steinemann’s advocacy, the sale of contact lenses without a prescription – cosmetic or corrective – has been illegal since 2005. The tweak in federal law was a victory, no doubt, but Dr. Steinemann’s advocacy continues because the lenses are still easy to buy over the internet. He continues to work closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In recognition of his ongoing work, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has selected Dr. Steinemann to receive its Outstanding Advocate Award. The award will be presented during the academy’s virtual annual meeting in November.
“We have to keep educating people because these lenses are still so easy to buy – and it's our kids who are taking this risk,” Steinemann said. “Many don’t take these seriously like the medical devices that they are.”
In many cases, these lenses are made cheaply overseas and often contaminated because they don’t meet the FDA’s standards for safe medical devices. Likewise, without the supervision of an eye-care professional, wearers often aren’t fitted properly or educated about how to care for the lenses.
“Contact lenses are not risk free,” Dr. Steinemann said. “They can be a wonderful way to correct vision, but these are more than a consumer product. You have to be serious and do the right thing – or you’ll end up in trouble.”
The MetroHealth System, Cuyahoga County’s public health system, is honoring its commitment to create a healthier community by building a new hospital on its main campus in Cleveland. The building and the 25 acres of green space around it are catalyzing the revitalization of MetroHealth’s West Side neighborhood.
MetroHealth broke ground on its new hospital in 2019. The project is being financed with nearly $1 billion the system borrowed on its own credit after dramatically improving its finances. In the past five years, MetroHealth’s operating revenue has increased by 40% and its number of employees by 21%. Today, its staff of 8,000 provides care at MetroHealth’s four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. In the past year, MetroHealth has served 300,000 patients at more than 1.4 million visits in its hospitals and health centers, 75% of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
The health system is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and Ohio’s only adult and pediatric trauma and burn center.
As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to teaching and research. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Its main campus hospital houses a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school of science and health.
For more information, visit metrohealth.org.