A Durham-based nonprofit that employs blind and visually impaired people to manufacture and sell mattresses, military supplies and other products has donated $12 million to help build a new Duke Eye Center.
With the gift from LC Industries, officials with the Duke University Health System have begun planning the project and expect to apply for permission to build a larger facility with state regulators by early next year.
The current Duke Eye Center treats more than 80,000 patients a year and the volume of surgeries and clinic visits has increased 9 percent a year for the past five years. The aging population and diseases such as diabetes are fueling a surge in vision loss.
"For years, we have been bursting at the seams in our current facility," said center chairman David Epstein, center chairman and Duke's chairman of Ophthalmology, in a prepared statement.
The state regulates, through its Certificate of Need office, major medical projects and expansions to help control health costs.
LC Industries was started in 1936 by the Durham Lions Club to provide job opportunities for people who are legally blind. The company now operates more than 30 supply centers on military bases across the country and six manufacturing facilities.
"This gift takes our company's commitment to people with visual impairments to a new level," said LC Industries president Bill Hudson, who also is on the Duke Eye Center's advisory board.