Nelson’s only ophthalmologist is about to retire, and the Interior Health Authority has no plans to replace him.
Neville Maytom, who has practised in the West Kootenay for 30 years, said in a letter to patients dated Sept. 27 that he intends to retire at the end of February.
In the letter, Maytom writes about his concerns that his position won’t be filled even though someone has expressed interesting in taking over his practice.
“It has been clear to me over the period of my career that there is enough work for three ophthalmologists in the West Kootenay, and many of these patients are from Nelson and communities north of here as far as Nakusp and Meadow Creek.”
Maytom declined to comment further when contacted by the Star.
Ophthalmology is the school of medicine focused on eye disorders and treatment including surgery.
Maytom added in his letter there is also currently no after-hours emergency surgery available at Nelson’s Kootenay Lake Hospital for ophthalmology patients.
A spokesperson for Interior Health said in a statement they are exploring opportunities to have their two ophthalmologists in Trail provide services in Nelson, and that surgical ophthalmology services will still be provided at Kootenay Lake Hospital.
“Two ophthalmologists in Trail are able to see patients from across the Kootenay Boundary and the new ophthalmologist in Trail is accepting referrals,” the statement said.
“There is currently a minimal wait to get in to see an ophthalmologist in the Kootenay Boundary.”
Winlaw resident Kurt Hilger is concerned that could change once Maytom retires.
Hilger has been one of Maytom’s patients for his entire tenure in Nelson, and says the doctor has always been immediately available in an emergency.
“He puts everything aside to see me,” said Hilger.
Hilger has already written to Interior Health expressing his concerns about the lack of an ophthalmology replacement in Nelson. He recalls one year when neither Maytom nor the two ophthalmologists were available for an emergency call.
“The doctors in the emergency room, basically they told me what I already knew but they couldn’t do a thing. They said, ‘Oh, drive to Kelowna.’ Well, yeah, I can barely see. I’m going to drive to Kelowna in the middle of winter over the Paulson?”
Hilger ended up flying to Vancouver for treatment.
“The point is if there are only two ophthalmologists, how many more times is there going to be no ophthalmologist available?”
Maytom’s impending retirement has also caught the attention of new Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison, who said in a statement Wednesday that although it is a provincial matter he agrees with Maytom’s concerns.