J. Isaac Barthelow, M.D.
   
Royo Eye Care
Providing Eye Care for All
Originally from Carmel, Isaac Barthelow moved to Chico in 1974 after his parents split; his father relocated to Rocklin, near Sacramento, and his mother moved to Chico. Custody was split evenly between the two, but more unorthodox than usual, with Isaac spending alternating years between the two instead of alternating weeks.

With his parents moves around town, Isaac was always the new kid in school as he not only experienced each year of elementary and junior high school in different towns, but entirely different schools as well.

Though Isaac’s childhood would have been difficult for any kid, he managed to focus throughout high school while still switching schools each year, earning an impressive GPA and being accepted to UC Davis for his undergraduate studies.
     
The years of switching back and forth between schools and cities had a surprisingly positive effect on Isaac. Forced to make new friends every year, he quickly developed the gift of gab and a competitive spirit; they both served him well when he began at UC Davis. Set on graduating and later attending pharmacy school, his macroeconomics professor suggested that he would be wasting his life if he didn’t apply to medical school. He thought it through and decided to give it a shot.

After graduating top of his class at UC Davis undergrad, he was accepted to UC Davis School of Medicine. Fascinated by neurology, it wasn’t until his ophthalmology rotation during his third year of med school that he found his true calling. Tasked with assisting a patient who was legally blind, he found that the man was having issues with everything in his life, including giving his mother the proper insulin dosage. They restored the man’s vision to 20/20 with cataract surgery and changed his life forever. Seeing the look on his face after surgery, and experiencing his appreciation, set the course for Isaac’s medical career. He wanted to make that kind of difference on a daily basis and decided ophthalmology was where he could do just that.

He finished his residency at Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and moved back to Chico in 2006, where he bought Dr. Val Shaw’s practice at North Valley Eye Care. It wasn’t long after that he began to discover the terrible inequity in access to eye care throughout the North State, coming face-toface with a number of patients who had been denied care elsewhere simply because they could not afford it.The most notable of these cases was a patient who visited the clinic with pseudotumor cerebri, a condition that occurs when pressure inside the skull increases for no apparent reason and causes symptoms similar to those of a brain tumor, yet no tumor is actually present. The patient had lived with debilitating headaches behind the eyes, ringing in the ears, and progressive loss of vision for a considerable period of time, and had even seen an ophthalmologist in Redding. The disease could have been easily treated with a medication that cost five dollars, but since she couldn’t afford the office visit and treatment, the ophthalmologist refused to treat her. By the time she arrived at North Valley Eye Care, she was already blind, and there was no way to return her vision to her. Having to tell a patient that they would never see again when they could have been treated quickly and for nearly nothing crushed Isaac. He found the lack of compassion for patients to be totally unacceptable and the experience changed his life. He decided to devote his time and talents to changing the inequities of the system.

Dr. Shaw not only passed his business onto Isaac but, with it, he also passed down his longstanding philosophy to take care of people whether or not they could pay for it. As a recipient of MediCal during his childhood and countless grants and scholarships throughout his school years, Isaac felt it was his responsibility to give his talents back to the community. He believed that everyone should just receive care and that his skill set didn’t belong to him as society had literally paid for him to learn it through those grants and scholarships. With the proven practice in place, he set out to expand its offerings and provide care to those who needed it most.

Over the years Isaac has done just that. Partnering with Dr. Anthony Rudick, the two have committed their time and resources to developing a health care system that provides access for everyone, vowing to not allow one person in Butte County to lose their vision due to lack of ability to pay for it. With one-third of the population currently covered by MediCal, their mission couldn’t be more important. It is said that every dollar spent on preventative eye care saves $4,000 in future medical care costs and, with MediCal patients, these costs are shouldered by society. Spending one dollar in preventative care to save $4,000 not only helps those without access to care lead better and more productive lives, but costs the country as a whole less as well. A win-win by any measure.

Unable to see MediCal patients like he had once been himself, Dr. Barthelow worked with Dr. Rudick to literally write the law to allow their practice to see those patients. The two piloted a program that ran at a loss, costing their business just over $100 per MediCal patient. Though the cost is significant with the number of patients they see, it pales in comparison to the immense cost on society when one of these patients fully loses their vision. Realizing that had he been born in Chico with eye problems as a child he wouldn’t have had access to care, Dr. Barthelow sees this mission as his way to ensure that no other child must face such inequity.

In the past year, the doctors partnered with Peach Tree Health locations in Live Oak, Marysville, North Sacramento, Paradise, and Chico, further expanding the reach of their program. These clinics build on the commitment Dr. Barthelow and Dr. Rudick have made to serving the underserved populations that reside therein. It is their belief that such clinics will keep those who can’t afford eye care from going blind due to easily treatable conditions. It is our belief that thoughtfulness like this is exactly what the world could use more of. They are currently working on a program that would allow them to expand into Sacramento and treat 450,000 people who currently are without vision care.

At a free diabetic screening they held in early May, in conjunction with Anthem Blue Cross and the California Optometric Association, they found a considerable number of early onset diseases and, as a result of the free screening, they were able to provide care to patients who may have lost their eyesight otherwise. The screening earned them the five minutes they needed with a massive insurance audience to pitch their program and the first step in changing the way healthcare is delivered to people with MediCal and Medicare. It is their hope that through this program they can set a precedent to provide vision care to all those in need and provide the roadmap for other specialties to model similar programs after their own.

In the past year, Dr. Barthelow and Dr. Rudick’s private practices received over 100,000 patient visits and those numbers are only continuing to increase. With three private practices locally—North Valley Eye Care in Chico, Ridge Eye Care in Paradise, and Royo Eye Care in Marysville —they have their sights set on continued expansion with the goal of providing eye care to all of Northern California. With their level of determination, we can’t imagine they’ll do anything else.