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Rupert residents call on province to fill gap in medical eye care

Lack of ophthalmologist forces elderly patients to travel to Terrace for treatments
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Joseph Jack, legislative assistant for North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, met with approximately 50 Prince Rupert residents expressing concern about a lack of ophthalmologist in the city. (Matthew Allen / The Northern View)

A group of concerned Prince Rupert residents are asking that the province address the lack of ophthalmologists in the city.

On Nov. 2, approximately 50 people met at the legislative office for North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, where they discussed the issue with Joseph Jack, Rice’s constituency assistant, and Prince Rupert councillor Barry Cunningham.

While there are several optometrists who can do basic examinations and prescribe eye-glasses, there have not been any ophthalmologists available to provide more complex medical procedures — such as cataract surgeries or eye injections — since the mid-nineties.

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Laurie Cullen, who organized the meeting, said people who need to see an ophthalmologist must travel to Terrace to receive treatment.

“You can see by the age average in the room that it’s mostly elderly people, and we’re asking them to travel on the highway in the winter time,” Cullen said.

Most of those in attendance said they either rely on a family member to make the trip to Terrace or rely on the Northern Connector bus service. If those two options fail, they are sometimes forced to fly to the Lower Mainland for treatment.

“I just wanted to bring it everybody’s attention, to Jennifer’s attention, to Northern Health’s attention and to the local government and the mayor and councillors so everyone is aware and we can figure out where to go from here,” Cullen said.

Rice was unable to attend the meeting, but Jack facilitated it in her absence and took feedback from the attendees. He also informed the group that Rice had spoken to staff at the Ministry of Health about finding solutions to the problem.

“The folks were really nice and prepared and know what they want,” Jack said. “They want to get an ophthalmologist here so I think it’s awesome. This is democracy in action and I think it’s great they came to meet with their MLA about it.”

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