Eye-care on the horizon
Services return to Baffin

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit ( May 22/00) - After months of going without, Baffin residents will soon have access to eye-care services.

It will be provided by the Ottawa Eye Institute, which signed a newly negotiated three-year contract that ensures all the former services will be in place as well as a few new ones.

That's according to Doug Sage, the acting chief executive officer of health care in the Baffin region.

He said that in the first week of June, a team of eye-care providers will begin travelling to the Baffin region to look after residents.

Because services have been unavailable for about six months -- that's approximately when the contract with Stanton Yellowknife Hospital for eye services ended -- Sage said the first order of business will be to clear up the glut of patients on the waiting list.

"The number 1 priority is to clean up any backlog that's there," said Sage.

"I would say it is significant. We don't like any backlog, so when there is a backlog, we're not happy about that," he said.

The waiting list, already long, became even longer when the service didn't begin in April as originally forecast by former employee Dr. Chuck MacNeil.

Sage explained that when the regional health boards were eliminated, the changeover to the Department of Health delayed the contract.

"Changing a board into a department is part of the glitches that would occur," said Sage.

"All of the signing authorities changed, all of the protocols and even the prototype of the contract changed. So little things led into a bit of a delay."

Sage also pointed out that other than patients who would have been sent south for specialty eye services, no residents of the Baffin region had to be sent to either Ottawa or Yellowknife to get eye-care services because they were unavailable in Iqaluit.

Estimating that the waiting list, in Iqaluit at least, would be taken care of by the middle of June, Sage said the team also has plans to travel to the Baffin region again in the middle of July. He said, however, that the community they would travel to had not yet been decided, but would be chosen after a needs assessment was conducted.

As for the new services that are available, Sage said the Ottawa Eye Institute is offering laser technology and has plans to train Inuit to work as eye technicians.

"The Ottawa people wanted to give us a better service than what we had," said Sage.

"It's a really good sign. Ottawa's approach is to get to know this place and what they're doing before they go off half-cocked and do things."