Eye clinic's closure could cost some patients their sight, doctor warns

The wait-list for elective eye surgery in Ottawa could balloon to thousands if the city's main treatment centre doesn't reopen soon, according to one physician.

Ottawa Hospital's Riverside Eye Care Centre has remained closed since March

In cataract surgery, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens to restore clearer vision. (CBC)

The wait-list for elective eye surgery in Ottawa could balloon to thousands if the city's main treatment centre doesn't reopen soon, according to one physician.

The Ottawa Hospital's Riverside Eye Care Centre (RECC) has been closed since March due to COVID-19. Despite a directive from the province in May allowing elective surgeries to resume, the RECC has yet to reopen.

The RECC is the largest outpatient facility of its kind in Canada, performing more than 10,000 surgeries a year. According to Dr. Peter Agapitos, a staff ophthalmologist at RECC, there could already be 5,000 patients waiting for surgeries that were cancelled due to the pandemic.

"Some of them are getting worse with time," Agapitos said, adding some patients could be at risk of losing their sight permanently

"As their problems progress, their surgery becomes more complicated, and that's the real problem."

Some procedures have resumed at the Eye Institute at the General campus of The Ottawa Hospital, but Agapitos said that facility is only functioning at 20 to 30 per cent of its normal capacity.

He said he's frustrated with the lack of communication regarding the RECC's closure, which he's been told will be re-evaluated in August.

"If we open up in September, it will take a long time to get through those 5,000 patients that are waiting. It'll take a number of years, and that's just not acceptable," Agapitos said.

Terrifying wait

One of the patients waiting for surgery is Dominic DeWolfe, who first started noticing a problem with his eyes a year ago when his night vision began to deteriorate. A few weeks ago he was diagnosed with aggressive cataracts. 

Dominic DeWolfe, a father of three, fears losing his sight to cataracts while he awaits surgery. (Submitted by Dominic DeWolfe)

"If I close my left eye, I'm basically blind at this point," DeWolfe said, adding his sight seems to be worsening by the day.

"It's just an awful experience," he said.

DeWolfe, a software developer in his late 40s, said it's difficult for him to cook, drive or help his wife with their three children.

"It's a situation that seems avoidable with a 15-minute surgery," he said.

'Gradual approach'

The Ottawa Hospital says it's taking a "coordinated and gradual approach" to catching up on surgeries that were cancelled due to COVID-19. In a statement, the hospital said it's reviewing each case and working to reschedule appointments. 

"Priority is based on acuity, and the health condition of the patient. This process will take some time, as our teams carefully consider the safety of patients throughout this process," the hospital said.

"While we are eager to care for as many patients as safely possible, this measured approach is in line with direction from the provincial government, which acknowledges this process will take weeks and months."

The hospital did not say why the RECC remains closed while similar facilities are reopening.


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now