Province finds money for cataract surgery at Hamilton's St. Joe's

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton was set to run out of money for cataract surgeries on January 24, but the province has reallocated funds to cover 1,200 surgeries in the area.
A Filipino ophthalmologist drops medicine on the eye of a cataract patient at a clinic in suburban Manila, Philippines, on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. The Tzu Chi Foundation joins the University of Santo Tomas (UST) as it celebrates its 400th founding anniversary this year by providing free cataract removal operations done by UST doctors for 400 patients from poor families. (Aaron Favila/The Associated Press)

The province has reallocated funds to help cover cataract surgeries in Hamilton for the rest of the fiscal year. 

St. Joseph's hospital was about to run out of money for cataract surgery, meaning an estimated 600 patients would have had their surgeries postponed until the hospital gets its new allocation of funding from the province for the 2014-15 fiscal year at the beginning of April.

Part of the work we do on an ongoing basis is to review wait times and reallocate funds.- Ontario health Minister Deb Matthews

The money would have run out on Jan. 24, leaving about 1,000 patients without their scheduled surgery, but the province has announced it will provide funding for 1,600 surgeries for the entire Hamilton-Niagara Local Health Integration Network, which includes St. Joseph's. St. Joe's has also reallocated internal funding for an additional 400 surgeries. 

"Part of the work we do on an ongoing basis is to review wait times and reallocate funds," explained provincial health Minister Deb Matthews. "If you've got cataracts, it can really limit your ability to enjoy life. So timely access to cataracts surgery is important."

Cataract surgery funding is provided by Ontario’s Wait Time Strategy initiative. The strategy was developed to improve public access to surgeries and reduce time spent in emergency rooms.

The provincial wait time target is 182 days. Matthews says the province is meeting those targets, but the demand at St. Joe's exceeded their expectations.

"Sometimes you get a hospital with more demand than resources," she said. "This is all part of the management of the overall health care system."

While the increased funding was very welcome news for the local healthcare network, there's still some details to work out, said St. Joe's president Dr. David Higgins.

"We're very pleased to have these resources, but I don't know the exact allocation yet," Higgins said, adding it's only a short-term solution to a wider issue in the region. St. Joe's is leading a move to create a comprehensive vision strategy across the area.

"Cataracts surgery is an important part but it's not the only part," he said, adding they plan to tackle how to best accommodate cataracts surgeries first, but want to move on to finding a better strategy to deal will all eye care from children to seniors.

"We need to find a balance between the actual need and resources available."

The hospital experienced the same problem last year where they had more surgery referrals than 5,010 funded by the government. Last week, Julie Holmes, director of ophthalmology with St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, said the hospital received about 6,000 cataract referrals, while the province provided funding for 5,010 surgeries for the April 2013 to March 2014 fiscal year.

“We are aware this is very challenging for patients and families,” Holmes told CBC Hamilton. “St. Joe’s is doing the best with the allocated funds. We are working with patients, surgeons and the [local health integrated network] LHIN.”

The hospital expects to receive a fresh allotment at the beginning of the next fiscal year on April 2014 – another 5,010 surgeries.