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Dr. John Hanrahan: A Champion for Hope

Updated: Feb 29

He’s been called a humanitarian and a “communitarian,” and 25 years after founding Hope Alliance, Dr. John Hanrahan still chokes up when he thinks about children and adults who have not had access to vision care. “It’s such a simple thing that will have a profound impact on their lives,” he says. Hanrahan remains as dedicated as ever in vision clinics in Park City and Moab, Utah, and in clinics abroad, and serves as Board Chair of the non-profit. His only ambition: to be able to offer services to more people.


A stint as a volunteer doctor in a medical clinic in Guatemala in the 1990s changed Dr. John Hanrahan’s life. He witnessed extreme poverty and treated rural patients who otherwise would not have had access to medical care, and he knew his service was making a vast improvement in their lives. Upon his return to Park City, he co-founded Hope Alliance to continue providing medical care to underserved areas.


“When we started 25 years ago the need that we saw was huge – and heart wrenching. We brought in volunteers to provide all kinds of services, from vision care, medical, surgical, dental, clean water, all kinds of things. The impact we had on the communities where we worked was extraordinary. The people are so grateful for the help they receive. You bring not just direct, impactful help, but you bring this sense of hope that ‘things are getting better, and they can get even better, and people care about us.’”


The rewards went both ways. “It’s changed my life,” he says. “It’s changed my family’s life. I left my clinical practice as a family doctor in Park City to start Hope Alliance and from then on it was everything, and in a good way. I feel like I helped a lot of people, and not just people in third world countries, but people here in our town, and we've also provided an opportunity for a lot of people as volunteer staff to have a great impact. We’re all looking for purpose and meaning in life and this is a great way for people to get that and to really feel like they’re helping their fellow humans.”

Hanrahan was a co-founder of People’s Health Clinic in Park City, offering services to patients who did not have health insurance. One patient, a young man with high blood pressure and diabetes, could not see well. When Hanrahan heard that the patient had never had his eyes checked and was having problems at work because of his failing sight, he knew he had to bring the vision program he’d been hosting abroad to underserved people at home.


“It was like getting hit with a two-by-four, and we said ‘let’s start doing vision clinics here as well,” he says. “There’s the same need here – there are people who have no access to vision care, don’t even know that they need glasses, and we have the capability to take care of them.”

Realizing that other providers had stepped in to offer medical and dental care to uninsured patients, Hope Alliance also began providing care with volunteer optometrists and other optical providers.


Hanrahan is proud of the work Hope Alliance has accomplished, and he hopes to reach even more people. “We’ve had a dramatic impact in Park City and on the kids in this town and on their families in terms of providing clear vision," he says. "It was mind-boggling to understand the need – at the first preschool screening we did, 60 percent of the kids needed glasses. At another screening, 80 percent of the kids needed glasses. What we need is more capacity. If we get additional funds and additional people with expertise we can see so many more people who still need vision care and don’t get it right now. It’s heartbreaking to think that people still don’t get such simple care that could have a profound impact on their lives, here in Park City, Utah. It’s not right, and we need to fix it.”


He can't help but choke up as he talks about patients who are struggling from the lack of basic vision care. “Imagine if you were someone who needed glasses and didn’t have them and you couldn’t function well at work, you couldn’t see the expressions on your loved ones’ faces, you can’t see colors and natural beauty, you can’t read well, or drive at night, or during the day. The impacts are just terrible. If your child couldn’t have access to glasses in 2nd or 3rd or 4th grade and they got behind and it impacted the rest of their life – there’s so much research that shows that – imagine that. Imagine the heartbreak and the despair and the hopelessness. You can’t help your kids? That’s amazing. It’s really impactful, and it’s such a simple thing. And yet not everyone has access to vision care and glasses, and they really deserve that opportunity.”

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