Brand new CNIB Eye Van starts its 2019 tour

The CNIB Eye Van sports CNIB Foundation’s new yellow-dominated branding and will be easy to spot by people with all levels of vision as it heads down the road to help communities in need.

SUDBURY—The CNIB Foundation has kicked off its 2019 Northern Ontario tour with a brand new medical mobile eye care unit, known as the CNIB Eye Van, which will be visiting 30 communities across the North between March and November.

“We’re very excited about the new unit. This new unit is larger, it’s all one level, providing an accessible space and offering patients more privacy,” says Lisa O’Bonsawin, general manager of the Eye Van.

“Its improved technology and networking capabilities allow doctors to view test results in real time; they will be able to assess and provide diagnoses to patients faster. We really feel that with this new unit, because of the increased technology and it’s larger, we will have a greater capacity to serve our patients,” Ms. O’Bonsawin says.

A key upgrade this year is an improved wheelchair lift that is designed to accommodate all sorts of accessibility devices. The floorspace within the trailer is all on one level, as opposed to the previous trailer that had a few steps up to the “gooseneck level,” a raised floor height above the trailer’s coupling pin. That provided some challenges for people with mobility issues from accessing the whole facility.

In addition to the ophthalmologists on board, Ms. O’Bonsawin says patient data is shared to and from relevant medical healthcare teams, optometrists and diabetes programs across Northern Ontario.

“We do have that continuity of care because we do provide reports back to referring doctors and optometrists as well,” Ms. O’Bonsawin says.

The Eye Van began in 1972 as part of the Prevention of Blindness program. It runs in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario—a branch of the Ontario Medical Association. 

This is the fifth Eye Van in history and it marks a considerable upgrade from the original unit.

“As Dr. Steve Arshinoff said today (at the unveiling), the first Eye Van was a modified Winnebago,” says Ms. O’Bonsawin. “As with any practice there’s innovation; the equipment improves over time but the basics of ophthalmology and screening stay the same.”

There are 25 ophthalmologists that work with the Eye Van as it travels more than 6,000 kilometres and serves close to 4,500 patients ever year. Three CNIB staff—two nurses and ophthalmic assistants and one driver—round out the personnel.

It visits remote and small communities that do not have proper ophthalmology services of their own. The services it provides include vision exams, eye condition treatments, minor surgeries and advice and information on eye health. 

Close to 90 percent of the patients who use the Eye Van are monitored for eye conditions that, if not treated, could lead to blindness.

Eye Van services are offered on a referral basis from one’s family doctor, an optometrist or nurse practitioner. Ms. O’Bonsawin says this is ensures context about the patient’s existing condition can be included. However, the Eye Van makes accommodations for emergency services.

“If someone feels they are facing an urgent situation and they need to see someone when we’re on-site, we will definitely see the person and have a conversation to help understand what’s happening,” says Ms. O’Bonsawin.

There is a significant educational component to the Eye Van, too. The ophthalmologists and CNIB staff meet with members of medical communities while they travel and share information on vision health, diagnosis and treatment. The Eye Van can further refer patients to Vision Loss Rehabilitation Ontario and the CNIB Foundation.

CNIB Foundation was founded in 1918 as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. It shortened its name in 2010 to CNIB, then changed to the current CNIB Foundation in 2018.

“We want to acknowledge the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care who funded the new Eye Van and corporations such as Manitoulin Transport—what we always say about them is that as we go along highway, they’re always traveling with us. They’re a great supporter of program,” says Ms. O’Bonsawin. 

She thanks the many service clubs such as the Lions, Legions and Rotary Clubs that support the program as well. On Manitoulin Island, the Lions provide funding for the Eye Van staff’s stay and help to co-ordinate the local stops on its annual tour.

“We also want to thank the patients that continuously support us. They really provide us with feedback and their appreciation that really makes us strive to be better and better, and to grow and be innovative all the time,” Ms. O’Bonsawin says.

The 2019 Eye Van season has begun this week in Englehart. Manitoulin Island is once again its last stop this year, with stays in Gore Bay, Mindemoya, Wiikwemkoong and Little Current during October.