A Day in the Life of the CNIB Eye Van

The CNIB Eye Van typically discovers over 700 cases of undiagnosed diabetes among Eye Van patients each year

Access to a local ophthalmologist is a luxury that residents in remote locations of northern Ontario sometimes go without. As a way to provide the eye care treatment they require, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) brings the ophthalmologists to them using the Eye Van, a mobile unit that provides travelling eye care. As a proud supporter of the CNIB, Bayer sent Taflyn Hornibrook and Carey Duncan, members of the Ophthalmology team, to experience firsthand the benefits it brings to these communities. In honour of #WorldSightDay, Taflyn shares her experience with Bayer Canada Magazine readers.

CNIB Eye Van operates with a small staff of three

On Sunday, September 24, we flew into Sault Ste. Marie and began our journey to Wawa, Ontario, the current home of the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) Eye Van. As a sponsor of the Eye Van, our mission was to better understand the impact and purpose the service provides to isolated towns in northern Ontario where there is no local access to an ophthalmologist. Our travelling companions consisted of Dr. Steve Arshinof (Medical Director with over 35 years of service), Dr. Stephanie Low (Chief Ophthalmology Resident at the University of Toronto) and Tina Felfeli (medical student). All three dedicated a week of their time to the patients of Wawa and the surrounding community on behalf of the CNIB.

On the stunning drive Wawa, Dr. Arshinoff shared the history of the Eye Van with us. Access to ophthalmic care from an ophthalmologist, historically, was very limited in northern Ontario and more acutely so in First Nations communities. The widely dispersed population, combined with harsh winters and limited and costly transportation options, left many residents without access to comprehensive eye care. As a result, many people went years without seeing an ophthalmologist, putting their eye health at risk, and when diabetes and/or diabetic retinopathy remains undiagnosed, both eye health and general health are at high risk.

Bayer Canada’s Carey Duncan (left) and Taflyn Hornibrook (right) in Wawa, Ontario; the current home of the CNIB Eye Van.

In response to this need, the CNIB Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit, Northwest and Northeast Local Health Integration Networks, and local diabetes education programs formed a valuable partnership that provides access to quality diabetes care and patient education. In fact, based on historical trends, diabetes educators conducting screenings via the CNIB Eye Van typically discover over 700 cases of undiagnosed or people at risk for diabetes among Eye Van patients each year. I asked Dr. Arshinoff how many communities the Eye Van services and he replied, “The Eye Van travels anywhere there is a road.”

Once we arrived in Wawa, our evening began with a team dinner where Dr. Arshinoff walked Tina, Stephanie, Carey and myself through the history and purpose of the Eye Van and some fun facts about the community. The number one thing to see according to TripAdvisor is the Wawa Goose if anyone was curious. Over fresh local fish and deep fried pickles, patients were reviewed and Dr. Arshinoff prepared us for the long days ahead.

The CNIB Eye Van typically discovers over 700 cases of undiagnosed diabetes among Eye Van patients each year

Monday morning started at 6am with coffee from the busiest place in town, Tim Hortons. The network of volunteers was waiting at the Wawa Lady Dunn Health Centre to start registering new and returning patients. Some, like Nancy Donald, have been working with the Eye Van for more than 15 years. For her the CNIB van is an annual community event. Appointments for the week were scheduled strategically to ensure procedures took place at the beginning of the week to allow for follow up while the physicians were still there. The team of family physicians and volunteers ensured that families had appointments together to minimalize their travel time. About 20 per cent out of the 300 patients made it a family affair, with parents, aunts, uncles and siblings all coming in for their annual screening.

The day ended at 7 pm with a team dinner to review the day. Each day that week was very similar, and there was a popular weekly Q&A session on Wednesday evening. In most of the communities there is a Q&A evening where family physicians, diabetes nurses, medical students, and other health care providers join the visiting ophthalmologist to share knowledge on eye health among northern Ontario medical professionals. The session aims to increase awareness of best in class treatment options. Dr. Arshinoff facilitated this discussion, covering the most up-to-date information on eye health care, early diagnosis and treatment of eye disease. The family physicians were given an opportunity to discuss trends and share their concerns and challenges of practicing in a northern community.

This week was an extremely rewarding experience for Carey and I. We were able to see firsthand the impact the CNIB Eye Van has on patients and in northern Ontario communities. This is an example of an outstanding partnership between industry, patients, physicians and government. It is these types of initiatives that make me proud to work at Bayer, and I am excited about exploring other ways we can support the delivery of patient care in Canada.


2016 Patient Data

  • 66% of Eye Van patients were seen by a diabetic educator and a dietician representing 29 local diabetes programs.

  • 8% of those self-identified as Aboriginal.

  • 17% were found to be at risk for developing diabetes.

  • 39% had some connection with a diabetes program.

  • 8% were referred to their local diabetes program for ongoing support.

2016 Data

  • 25 Ophthalmologists volunteered their time; two celebrated 10 years of service; one doctor marked 35 years of continuous service!

  • 86 Health Care Professionals participated on site or in the Professional Q & A Lecture Series.

  • Four students completed one-week placements; two from Kingston Ophthalmic Training Centre and two from the University of Ottawa Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technology program.

  • Two ophthalmology residents from University of Toronto completed one week each.

  • 500 volunteers supported the program.

  • 40 service clubs or health centers coordinated the visits.

  • CNIB Eye Van operates with a small staff of three.