03/30/2015 06:08 EDT | Updated 05/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Cataract surgery waits too long, says Prince George woman

A Prince George woman wants the government to reduce wait times for cataract surgery in northern B.C., saying it is forcing elderly residents to travel to the Lower Mainland for treatment.

Ruth Keiss, who was diagnosed with fully developed cataracts in both eyes, says she was told it would take nearly a year and a half until she could have surgery. 

She blames the provincial health care system for letting wait lists become a problem. "It's an aging population and anyone with any foresight would have known that this would be an issue," said Keiss.

"Prince George is a fair-sized town. It's not the tiniest of communities in B.C...I don't think anyone should be able to travel out of their community to have a simple procedure like this done... The procedure takes less than half an hour for each eye."

Eye surgery demand doubled

Northern Health, which oversees services in the region, says demand for eye surgeries has doubled since 2011, from 546 to 1065.

It says it is working on finding additional surgical capacity for ophthalmologists in Prince George by this summer.

Keiss wasn't willing to wait that long.

She lives alone and relies on driving to get things done, she says, so the thought of waiting that long to fix her eyes wasn't a reasonable option for her.

She says she was two letters away on the eye chart from losing her driver's licence, so the surgery was imperative.  

"I couldn't drive at night at any longer. I would just go to Save-On to get my groceries, I'd go to Bosleys to get my dog food. That's about as far as I went."

Keiss travelled to the Lower Mainland to get the surgery done at a private clinic in Abbotsford. She was referred by her doctor, so the surgery costs were covered, but her travel expenses were not.

The government suggested she apply to the Travel Assistance Program, but her circumstances didn't fit the criteria so she ultimately received a charitable gift to cover the extra costs.

Keiss has now recovered from the surgery but says she is left wondering why her situation became so complex when cataract surgery isn't the most complicated of surgeries.

To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Prince George Cataract Surgery.