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Duke Medicine officials held a ceremonial ground-breaking Friday for a new, state-of-the-art Duke Eye Center building that will add much-needed clinical examination space and enhance the patient experience.

“This ceremony celebrates the team effort that has turned our dream of building a new Eye Center clinical facility into a reality,” said Victor J. Dzau, MD, chancellor for health affairs at Duke University and CEO of the Duke University Health System.

“Through the collaborative efforts of our legion of generous donors, the Health System, the School of Medicine and the faculty, we can now move forward with our goal to expand our current vision care services, and take our commitment to provide the highest quality eye care to the next level.”

Planning for the clinical eye center building began in 2010, when Duke received a $12 million donation from Durham-based LC Industries, the largest employer of visually impaired people in the country. LC Industries pledged an additional $4 million in 2013, bringing the total donation to $16 million.

“This is a vision that has come true,” says William Hudson, president of LC Industries and chairman of the Eye Center Advisory Board. “We developed a relationship with the Eye Center early on because it is a perfect partnership. We provide jobs for the visually impaired, we provide educational opportunities, but we can’t conduct research on eye diseases or offer vision care. The Eye Center takes over where we leave off. This new facility is a win-win for everyone.”

The construction project, expected to take three years to complete, includes plans for a 127,000-square-foot facility. The four-story building will house expanded clinical services designed to improve workflow and maximize patient care and convenience.

It will be constructed in the parking lot adjacent to the current Wadsworth Eye Center building along Erwin Road, and will be connected on the clinic and operating-room levels to provide access to existing services. A new circular, covered drop-off area will connect the new facility to the parking deck, and a new outdoor courtyard is planned between the current and new building.

The new facility comes at a time when demand for vision services is growing at an alarming rate. According to the National Eye Institute, blindness or low vision affects 3.3 million Americans age 40 and up and is projected to reach 5.5 million by the year 2020.

Similar demands for increased services are being felt at the Duke Eye Center, which consistently ranks among the top 10 eye centers in the country by several organizations.

During the past five years, the Duke Eye Center has grown eight percent annually in both surgical procedures and clinic visits. Today, nearly 60 physicians see more than 80,000 patient visits at the main Eye Center building each year.

“When our current space was built more than 30 years ago, it was designed for 12 doctors who saw 15,000 patient visits per year,” says David Epstein, MD, chairman of ophthalmology in the Duke University School of Medicine and director of the Duke Eye Center. “The current facility was also not designed to house the new technology that is now available.

“The new building will be more patient-centric, with better patient flow and easier access to the diagnostic evaluations and treatments they need. We have great doctors who deliver great care, but a new facility is the only way we can continue to provide the people of North Carolina with the kind of advanced eye care they have come to expect at Duke.”