The Winnipegger who skipped the years-long waiting list for knee surgery, by getting his procedure done in Lithuania on his own dime, has submitted his bill to Health Minister Audrey Gordon.

The Winnipegger who skipped the years-long waiting list for knee surgery, by getting his procedure done in Lithuania on his own dime, has submitted his bill to Health Minister Audrey Gordon.

Local retiree's knee surgery in Lithuania 'like clockwork'

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MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS						</p>																	<p>Max Johnson in his home in Winnipeg after returning from Lithuania, where he underwent knee surgery.						</p>
MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Max Johnson in his home in Winnipeg after returning from Lithuania, where he underwent knee surgery.

Posted: 7:00 PM Nov. 18, 2021

Max Johnson has returned from his latest overseas trip with a souvenir: a new knee.

The former Winnipeg travel agency owner is now home after undergoing knee replacement surgery at Nordorthopaedics Clinic in Lithuania — shaving off the minimum 18 months he was expected to have to wait for such a procedure in Manitoba.

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Max Johnson, who returned from Lithuania with a new left knee on the weekend, submitted an invoice for 9,953 euros, or $14,431.85, to Gordon on Thursday.

Johnson has argued that's a deal because a government report shows the procedure cost $21,430 in Manitoba in 2019.

"It would be nice if they sent me a cheque, but I would like them to resolve the problem of waiting lists," said Johnson, a former travel agency owner, on Friday.

"They will have to put more resources to do it. During these disruptive times, with waiting lists of thousands of people, we should be able to go outside the regular protocol.

"If we can get it done for less money (in Lithuania), I believe people should be able to do it and the province should pay for it. This is a crisis and we have to do something to lower these (wait list) numbers.

"We have no choice at this time."

"This is a crisis and we have to do something to lower these (wait list) numbers." – Max Johnson

Doctors Manitoba has estimated the backlog for surgeries and procedures has grown to almost 130,000. The backlog for knee and hip replacements alone has jumped from about 6,000 to 8,000 during the pandemic.

Johnson received his surgery in Lithuania, a member of the European Union, on Oct. 28 and then received two weeks of intensive physio and massage therapies at a spa there.

The bill Johnson submitted includes the cost of his surgery, the implanted prosthesis, rehabilitation services, and the before- and after-travel COVID-19 tests he had to take.

On Friday, reporters asked Premier Heather Stefanson, who was the health minister during the the third wave of the pandemic when patients had to be airlifted to other provinces because intensive care departments were packed, whether the province would pay the bill.

She failed to directly answer the question and said Health Minister Audrey Gordon would deal with it.

On Friday, Premier Heather Stefanson failed to answer whether the province would pay the bill. (Mike Deal / Free Press files)

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

On Friday, Premier Heather Stefanson failed to answer whether the province would pay the bill. (Mike Deal / Free Press files)

"The most important thing is that Manitobans are able to get the health care that they need. We'll ensure that through the task force, through others, and working with our partners in health, that Manitobans get the health care that they need, when they need it," said Stefanson.

"Obviously, COVID has created some backlogs in the system. We recognize that. We're working on that. I thank the minister of health for all the incredible work that she's doing and all of those in the health-care system who are working diligently to help Manitobans in need."

Winnipegger Marianne Toews, who has been waiting for hip surgery since early 2020, and has been told it might finally be done in the spring, said if the province paid for people to go to Lithuania, she would go

"I would go in a heartbeat," said Toews.

"It's cheaper for the government and people would come off that long list and not end up with more problems because of the long wait. Every time the hospitals stop all surgeries, except emergencies, the wait time gets longer."

"I would go in a heartbeat." – Marianne Toews, who has been waiting for hip surgery

Toews said she has a friend in the same situation who would do it, too.

"There has to be a better way," she said.

Not surprisingly, Doctors Manitoba said physicians would prefer the province rapidly expand surgical capacity here instead of sending patients out of province.

"Doctors are very concerned about patients stuck in the staggering backlog in surgery and diagnostic procedures, which is getting bigger every day," said spokesman Keir Johnson.

"We are hopeful the government will unveil a task force next week to oversee the clearing of this backlog and help patients get the surgeries and tests they need."

Johnson said having surgeries done here is better for patients.

"Patients can receive their surgery close to home and recover with the comfort and support of their family and friends," he said. "Except for highly specialized procedures, sending patients out of the province for surgery is, and would be, a concerning last resort.

"We believe there are still local solutions that could rapidly increase capacity which should be considered first, to ensure patients get timely care close to home."

"Doctors are very concerned about patients stuck in the staggering backlog in surgery and diagnostic procedures, which is getting bigger every day." – Doctors Manitoba spokesman Keir Johnson

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara, said the issue "speaks to the desperation of Manitobans who are living in pain waiting for surgeries.

"The most important thing we can do to address the surgery backlog is fix our health care system, and help folks get the surgeries they need right here in Manitoba."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, who during the last election pledged his party would remove the cap on hip and knee surgeries, said the government needs to fix the public health system.

"There are over 130,000 surgeries and tests that are backlogged, and while sending people to Lithuania may work for a handful of people, it is not, in any way, a realistic solution," said Lamont.

"We need a health care system that can treat people in our community. We don’t have that anymore, and that is appalling. The idea that any Manitoban would have to get on a plane and fly to another continent to get treatment on time for what should be routine surgery is horrifying.

"We need to fix our public health system, starting with launching the task force that Doctors Manitoba asked for in June to address the backlog."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.