October 24, 2014

Dear Northerners,


We all know smoking is bad for us. A few diseases quickly spring to mind, including the big three: cancer, COPD and heart disease. But did you know that smoking also affects your eyes? In fact smokers are twice as likely to get Macular Degeneration.

Unfortunately 25% of us in the North East still haven’t kicked the habit. Smoking, combined with other factors like our higher rates of diabetes, is affecting the health of our eyes. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) reports that “every 12 minutes someone in Canada begins to lose their eyesight” and most of this loss can be prevented.

Here in the North East, we have higher rates of diabetes and it’s no secret that more of us have celebrated 65 years compared to the rest of the province, which of course increases the prevalence of age-related ocular diseases.

So as a LHIN we decided to open our eyes and take a good look at our services and talk to professionals working in hospitals and community organizations like the CNIB.  

Here are a few facts:

  • Fifteen ophthalmologists live and work in the NE LHIN and 33% have 29 or more years of experience. In addition, two surgeons from outside the NE LHIN provide ophthalmology. The average number of cataracts performed by the surgeons ranged from 315 to 647 per year (looking at last fiscal year).
  • The NE LHIN has more ophthalmology calls to the provincial Criticall system than all other LHINs. Criticall is a system that provides a 24 hour emergency referral service for physicians across Ontario. The limited access to regional ophthalmologists has been an issue in the past.
  • Eye care for infants and children is provided in some hub hospitals and many children are referred to specialists in Southern Ontario. An ophthalmologist with a sub specialty in pediatrics would be a benefit to patients across the NE LHIN, improve their access to care, and reduce the cost of Northern Travel Grants.

So we developed a Vision Care Plan for the North East. The plan makes seven recommendations (which you can read about here) including the formation of a working group made up of clinical leaders across the region who can implement the changes needed and ensure that Northerners receive the same quality of care wherever they are treated.

These recommendations really speak to the need for the four hub hospitals located in our urban centres – Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, and Timmins— to take on a leadership role in supporting the work done in some of the medium sized hospitals and to ensure that emergency after hours support is available for Northerners when they need it.

Yes, we need to recruit a few more professionals including, a pediatric ophthalmologist. But the recommendations really speak to ways we can work together to maximize the knowledge and resources we do have here in the North East. And of course, Northerners can help by encouraging smokers to contact Ontario’s Smoker’s Helpline at 1-877-513-5333. Or visit http://www.mhp.gov.on.ca/en/smoke-free/quit-smoking.asp to find support in your neighborhood.

Wishing you a healthy autumn….