Inside an Ottawa eye clinic tapped to help clear Ontario's surgical backlog


The Herzig Eye Institute has been given a licence by the province to perfom 5,000 cataract procedures a year at its Ottawa location. (Katie Griffin/CTV News Ottawa)

The Herzig Eye Institute, one of the clinics awarded a government contract to perform cataract surgeries to help clear the surgical backlog, says it is ramping up and opening a second operating room.

"It's a triple win," said co-founder and CEO Cherry Tabb. "For the patient, first. It's a win for the surgeons who have these backlogs who are stressed with the pressures of trying to get their patients treated as quickly as possible, and we think it's a win for the hospitals because the intention, I believe, is to relieve the hospitals of this type of surgery that can clearly be done in outpatient settings such as ours, and it frees up space in the hospital to do more serious surgeries."

The clinic was awarded a licence by the province to perform 5,000 OHIP covered cataract procedures a year.

Right now, the clinic on St. Laurent Boulevard does about 1,500 refractive cataract procedures a year.

While it doesn't charge for services covered by OHIP, the clinic says there is an option for a patient to pay more, something the clinic says is common in the health-care system.

"Whether you work at a private clinic or you work at the hospital, it's really presenting the options that are there for the patient to the patient in a very kind of clear, low-pressure situation," said Dr. Kashif Baig, the medical director for the Herzig Eye Institute in Ottawa. "You want to do that so that you can give your patient all the options, and they make a personal choice as to what they feel is appropriate for them or not."

The Ontario government's three-step plan to clear the backlog has private clinics performing an additional 14,000 cataract operations a year, which is about a quarter of the current waitlist for the procedure. More clinics will also be able to do MRI and CT imaging, as well as colonoscopies and endoscopies. By 2024, knee and hip replacements will also be able to be done outside of hospitals.

Critics say the plan will undermine the public system by attracting employees away. Herzig doesn't see it that way.

"Everybody is regulated, everyone has to play by the same rules when it comes to patient care, safety accuracy, patient service all of that," said Tabb.

Cynthia Westaway, a patient at the clinic, says she just wants timely care.

"I don't think people care where they go as long as they're with the right people and getting good treatment, frankly."