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Timmins hospital joins with the University of Toronto to reduce cataract surgery waitlist

A shortage of ophthalmologists has forced health officials with the Timmins and District Hospital to find a new strategy to address wait times, specifically for cataract surgery.

A partnership with the University of Toronto will involve faculty ophthalmologists, joined by senior residents, to provide eye care at the hospital's ophthalmology clinic.

“COVID certainly didn’t help," said Dr. Alejandro Oliver, an ophthalmologist with the Timmins and District Hospital.

"For many months we were asked to stop doing all cataract surgeries so it set us back quite a bit and it’s been hard to bounce back. With the University of Toronto's help, I think we’ll be able to make a dent.”

Oliver said the current waitlist for cataract surgery in Timmins is one year.

“They will be bringing the soon-to-graduate residents who are already thinking about their future plans and how to transition from training to practice and for us it’s just a big commercial for our communities," he said.

"We get to show them, you know, what a caring community we are, lovely natural surroundings and fresh air.”

“Resident physicians are doctors. They’ve completed four years of medical school after their undergrad," said Dr. Amrit Rai, a faculty member at the University of Toronto's Kensington Eye Institute.

"After medical school, students have an opportunity to specialize in an area and so all our residents are ones that have chosen ophthalmology as a career and that’s a five-year speciality.”

The Timmins and District Hospital has formed a partnership with the University of Toronto to provide various eye care services, including cataract surgery. (Lydia Chubak/CTV News)

One of the students is Dr. Kirill Zaslavsky, who said he's especially impressed with the new, state-of-the-art equipment he gets to use.

“I always wanted to see what ophthalmology practice is like outside of university hospitals in downtown Toronto,” Zaslavsky said.

“So when such an opportunity came up it was really a no-brainer for me and I think that it’s an opportunity that allows us to really see the breadth of ophthalmology as it’s practised in a community and it’s a perspective that as residents we frequently lack.”

Zaslavsky began work in Timmins this week. At this point in time, he said he's seeing new referrals for cataract evaluation.

"The most interesting aspect of this is how many patients have things hiding elsewhere in the eye that need attention before we really pay attention to the cataract surgery," he said.

The University of Toronto will be sending teams of two every month for week-long stays. Officials said the unique model of care relieves some of the pressure on the only ophthalmologist in the city -- an area they said that requires three. 

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