Letter: Kelowna needs ER eye surgery service

Interior Health provides timely, patient-centred care…[but] a retinal program needs to be established here in Kelowna.

To the editor:

Re: Vision loss complications can receive prompt attention, published June 10 2015 in the Capital News.

I was not surprised to read in this article that national ER wait times are, on average, more than four hours.

On August 20, 2014, my sister was one of the fewer than 20 per cent who did not present to the emergency department, but instead sought the attention of an optometrist when she spontaneously developed symptoms of an eye injury with vision loss.

Unfortunately, the emergency intervention she required, surgery to reattach her retina, was anything but prompt.  The ophthalmologist to whom my sister was referred is an experienced and qualified surgeon, and state-of-the-art facilities exist in Kelowna General Hospital.

Yet she was told that she needed to get herself to Vancouver as soon as possible in order to undergo the procedure that could potentially save her vision.

While the frustration over unnecessary presentations to the ER is incredible for us all, imagine the frustration in requiring an emergency procedure that cannot be provided (in the eye doctor’s office or even the hospital) despite available practitioners and operating rooms?

Three years ago several well-respected family doctors in Kelowna wrote an open letter urging Interior Health to establish a retinal program in our city. The reasons cited for lack of services at that time were purely bureaucratic and financial; it was mentioned that “apparently financial costs exceed patient benefit.”

My sister has had to travel to Vancouver and back seven times in order to undergo emergency surgery and follow-up appointments, and unfortunately, there continue to be complications. The costs incurred so far for her are not unlike those of other patients seeking “prompt attention” for their vision loss—missed time from work, soaring fuel prices, hotel rates in a large city, and her husband’s missed time at work as well, (as she cannot drive in her condition).

Flying is not an option, and traveling by vehicle through our mountainous province is dangerous due to the pressure on the eyes.

Interior Health provides timely, patient-centred care, and in order to continue doing so, a retinal program needs to be established here in Kelowna.

Tasha McAdam, Kelowna