The clinic offers free eye care at the Wabano Center

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A week-long pilot project at the Wabano Center for Aboriginal Health aims to provide free vision care to Ottawa’s 35,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

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“There are a lot of services here — family medicine, chiropractic care, physical therapy, foot care, lots of different nursing programs, dental care — but there’s never been eye care,” said Joshua Smith, an optometrist from Alexandria who volunteers at the Montreal Hospital. Road health hub for next week.

The project is supported by the Essilor Vision Foundation, a global network that works with charities and nonprofits to bring vision care to those in need. Essilor equipped the Wabano clinic with state-of-the-art optical equipment, while students from Collège La Cité assisted Smith in his work.

October 14 was World Sight Day and Essilor established similar clinics in Iqaluit, Calgary and Alberta’s Eden Valley Reserve to provide vision care to Indigenous people, says Essilor Canada President , Christophe Perrault.

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It’s estimated that six percent of the population — or about two million Canadians — have uncorrected visual impairment, he said, and many don’t realize it. Poor vision can lead to social isolation and can negatively affect mental health.

“Young kids in school can’t see and they start to feel like outcasts,” he said. “Then they just start to pull back.”

Eye problems are often associated with other health problems such as diabetes, a disease that is particularly common among Aboriginal populations. An eye exam can even reveal other serious health issues, such as an undetected stroke.

Christophe Perreault, President, Essilor and Essilor Vision Foundation in Canada.
Christophe Perreault, President, Essilor and Essilor Vision Foundation in Canada. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

“For me, that’s the ultimate sense of purpose. To help people see well and start enjoying life,” Perreault said.

But even as the Wabano clinic took place, Ontario remains locked in a more than six-week withdrawal of service by the province’s optometrists, who say OHIP payments have not kept pace. cost rate. OHIP pays for eye exams for people under 19 and over 65 and those with certain eye conditions, currently at about $45 per exam. That’s only about $5 more than 30 years ago, and optometrists say that only covers about half the actual cost of an exam.

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The province offered an 8.5% fee increase and a $39 million one-time payment to cover a decade of back wages. But optometrists said that was not enough and withdrew their service on September 1. There have been no negotiations since, said Smith, former president of the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

Last week, more than 400 optometrists rallied outside Queen’s Park to try to force the government back to the table.

“We do not expect optometrists to pay out of pocket for the services they provide,” Health Minister Christine Elliott told the Legislative Assembly. “We’re prepared to look at overhead, but we can’t just write a blank cheque.”

Smith said the dispute could derail the Wabano pilot project.

He works at Wabano for free. It is illegal for an optometrist to accept any payment for services that would ordinarily be covered by OHIP.

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“If there is no OHIP reform, it is impossible to establish a clinic here. We just won’t be able to get the doctors,” Smith said.

“This government did not create the problem, but it is up to them to solve the problem. They have the chance to be the heroes of eye care and to solve a decades-old problem.

Smith has been trying to add eye care to Wabano’s services since 2016, but modern optometry equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks to an equipment loan from Essilor, Wabano’s basement has been transformed into a temporary eye clinic. While Smith was taking his exams, La Cité students were on hand to help set up the table filled with picture frames on display.

Kris Kelm, head of community impact at the Essilor Foundation, hopes word of mouth from the clinic’s first patients will inspire others to come for eye exams.

“For us, success will be a good patient experience that will make them want to come back and share their experience with others,” Kelm said.

Optometrist Dr. Joshua Smith speaks with students from La Cité College optometry program Abdellatif Amoum and Jannina Quillatupa Callupe.
Optometrist Dr. Joshua Smith speaks with students from La Cité College optometry program Abdellatif Amoum and Jannina Quillatupa Callupe. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

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