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Wait list for cataract surgery down to almost nothing in Chilliwack

Eye specialist notes ‘very long wait list’ they had coming out of the pandemic is now virtually gone
Dr. Walter de Bruin says wait times are down for cataract surgery. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress)

The wait list for cataract surgery at Chilliwack General Hospital is down to almost nothing.

It used to take anywhere from four to eight months to get a surgical date at the Mt. Cheam Lions Club Eye Centre in Chilliwack General Hospital.

“It’s now really a matter of two to three months, for everybody,” said Dr. Walter de Bruin, a local ophthalmologist.

That constitutes a “major difference” in the lives of his elderly patients from Chilliwack and elsewhere in Fraser East on the list for cataract surgery to have a clouded natural eye lens replaced with an artificial lens to improve vision.

It may be quite rare to hear anyone praising B.C.’s health care system in public, but Dr. de Bruin was insistent that this constitutes good news since the “very long wait list” they had, is now virtually gone.

Dr. de Bruin has run his practice from Chilliwack for the past 18 years of his 30-year medical career.

The wait list reduction is the “most noticeable effort,” made in concert by hospital and provincial officials that he’s seen.

The backlog at the eye centre actually began before the pandemic hit, and it just grew from there, he said.

“You’ll remember that with COVID there was a period where everything came to a complete standstill. There were no surgeries being done except for cancer procedures and emergencies,” Dr. de Bruin recounted.

That forced some patients to put their lives on hold while they waited for a surgical date.

So coming out of the pandemic, the B.C. government had a “daunting task,” pledging to cut wait times and the wait list significantly, the doctor said.

He wondered if that provincial promise to allocate more funding to improve wait times would trickle down to Chilliwack.

“It very definitely did and, it was exactly what they promised us, that the wait lists would be shorter, and it’s not because fewer surgeries are being done. The wait lists are shorter because more surgeries are being done.”

It was a “combination” of efforts that did it.

The province did its part by providing the necessary additional funding, he said, while the hospital administration did its part and hired more operating room staff. And the surgeons provided the patients.

“That almost eliminated the backlog,” de Bruin said.

RELATED: B.C. making progress with more staffing

Although he can’t speak on behalf of other types of specialists and surgeons, he’s been told anecdotally that they’ve seen improved surgical wait times as well.

He told hospital officials last week he was going to share the news with the local newspaper to get the word out since it’s important when something positive comes up that they share that as well.

“We always talk about the problems with health care; we always talk about the obstacles, the wait list, and are critical of the government.

“It’s very rare that we hear a health-care story about an improved service like this.”

A shorter wait time for cataract surgery now makes it much easier for eye patients across the region to plan, especially retirees who travel or head south for the winter.

“We once again have a clean slate,” de Bruin said.

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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