BROOKVILLE — State representative and Speaker of the House Sam Smith received the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology (PAO) Community Service Award on Friday, recognizing his work in Jefferson County and abroad.
Dr. Louis "Skip" Nichamin, M.D., the medical director of the Laurel Eye Clinic and the Laurel Laser & Surgery Center, who nominated Smith for the award and presented it to him at the organization's Brookville establishment, said he did so because of the doctors' responses to interaction with patients in the community.
"In our practice, we see so many members of the community as patients that we've been able to come to appreciate Rep. Smith's dedication toward this region," Nichamin said. “Because of that dedication to these individuals and the community spirit that we share with him as a provider, he was an obvious choice for this pretty important award."
He added that the nomination was also based on the changing situation with the population of the local area.
"Our eye patient population, demographically, is growing exponentially," Nichamin said, "and these are patients who require a lot of services, sometimes expensive services and vital services, to maintain their quality of life ... so, the ophthalmic community in particular has a very vested interest in what's happening in Harrisburg and around the country."
He added, "Being able to work with the political system to be able to protect our patients' rights is tremendous. We can't do it without communal spirit. This is key. I think this says that Rep. Smith is dedicated, he's performed, and we very much look forward to continuing to work with him toward our patients' and our communities' best interests."
The award, Nichamin said, comes from the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology, which represents all eye physicians and surgeons throughout the state.
"It is really a very distinguished recognition for community service," Nichamin said.
On receiving the award, Smith said, "I'm honored, and it's obviously something that is greatly appreciated when someone recognizes you for trying to do good things. I think, probably more importantly, I'm especially honored because of what Dr. Nichamin and the people at Laurel Eye have done in the way of eye care."
Smith explained that, in the past, the different levels of eye care physicians, from ophthalmologists to optometrists, were more often in competition with one another.
"What they have done here," he said, "is bridge that gap and bring everyone together in terms of quality of care, and their model that
they have created at Laurel really has transcended across the state in other ways. They saw around the corner. They were ahead of the curve in terms of seeing what was needed in the way of eye care for people. Where it used to be a turf war, they made it a family teamwork approach to providing care to people. The fact that they're doing it in the small, rural communities of Western Pennsylvania in particular ... is of extra interest to me."
Smith said he felt it was important to support organizations such as Laurel Eye Care and others like it because of how difficult it can be to have easy access to quality care.
"Getting quality care, whether it's heart, cancer or eye care ... is not always an easy thing as far as access goes," Smith said. "The fact that these folks are here in Brookville, where you have the highest quality care arguably available in the country, maybe in the world... People don't recognize that, that this is as good as anything you're going to get anywhere, so that access, that ability to get in to see somebody who really is a world-class doctor, is really something I think is
underrated and under-appreciated in rural Pennsylvania, and we're just really fortunate to have people of this quality in our community."