Ontario’s health minister says the province is working with Hamilton healthcare officials to bridge a funding gap for eye surgeries at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

It was revealed this week that on January 24, the hospital will run out of this year's allotment of provincial money for cataract surgeries. That means hundreds of cataracts surgeries will be pushed until after April 1 — the beginning of the 2014-2015 fiscal year — unless the hospital finds more cash in the interim.

The province and local health officials will be in talks to find a solution to the problem, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said on Saturday.

“The [local health integration network], the hospital and the ministry are going to work together to get wait times down to where they should be,” she told CBC Hamilton on Saturday.

'The details of how we make that happen are going to have to be worked out.' —Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews

However, she didn’t specify what measures are being considered or when they will be decided. 

“The details of how we make that happen are going to have to be worked out,” Matthews said. “What’s important is that people get the care they need within a reasonable length of time.”

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.

Missed targets

The provincial wait-time target is 182 days. Cataract patients at St. Joe’s can expect to wait longer than that. The hospital also experienced the same problem last year where they had more surgery referrals than 5,010 funded by the government.

Earlier this 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. Until then, St. Joe’s has gathered resources to fund extra 400 surgeries spread out during the months of February and March.

Holmes said even with this funding boost from the hospital, a lot of people are still affected. Nearly 600 cataract patients will have to wait longer and be put on a list for the surgery throughout the year.

St. Joe’s places a priority on patients who have been on the list longest. They will also consider other factors such as if the patient is older and lives alone. This is also how the extra 400 surgeries and new bookings will be prioritized.

“If there is urgency or a patient is facing other health issues, they should work with their surgeon to see if they are prioritized differently than other patients,” Holmes said.

Patients affected by these changes can contact Julie Holmes at 905-573-4807 with questions or concerns.

They will be contacted with new procedure dates after April, unless a solution is worked out sooner.