Complications have delayed plans to open a new orthopedic operating room at Concordia Hospital, as the province looks to send patients who need hip and knee surgery out of province.
Provincial executive director of Manitoba’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force David Matear said a fifth operating room scheduled to open at Concordia Hospital by the end of the calendar year is now on track for the start of the 2023-24 fiscal year in April.
Surgeon reflects on impact of pandemic
Posted: 3:00 AM Apr. 4, 2022
An unexpected pang of grief hit orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Turgeon after learning a new operating room would open at Concordia Hospital in a matter of months.
The Winnipeg physician was forced to hold back tears while reflecting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his patients and the distress of being unable to help those languishing on wait lists.
Matear attributed the setback to the work-up time needed to get the refurbished surgical suite up and running.
"So, if we take that into consideration, the time that it takes to put that in practise, to put everything together, the timeline takes us to the beginning of fiscal year 23-24," Matear said during the task force’s monthly update at the John Buhler Research Centre on the Health Sciences Centre campus.
The province must recruit a new orthopedic surgeon, complete an estimated $700,000 in renovations, add four in-patient beds at Concordia Hospital before patients can go under the knife in the new operating room.
Additional investments in anesthesia staff are also needed to run the operating room. Matear said four anesthesia clinical assistant students will begin their program this September as part of a previously announced plan to train and hire up to 13 new ACAs over the next three years.
The operating room would increase capacity for joint-replacement surgery by approximately 1,000 cases annually at a cost of $4.9 million.
Despite the setback, task force chair Dr. Peter MacDonald said his team intends to meet or exceed the roughly 5,000 hip and knee surgeries performed in the 2019 fiscal year, before the pandemic hit Manitoba.
A yet-to-be-determined proportion of those 5,000 people will be sent out of Manitoba to receive their surgery, MacDonald said.
"Some patients may prefer to wait rather than go out of province, so we’re not sure how many patients actually would be keen on going out of province rather than waiting for their surgeons," MacDonald said. "That will clarify over time, so I can’t give you an exact proportion, but our goal is to definitely decrease the backlog by exceeding the 2019 number."
The task force is hammering out an agreement with Sanford Health Fargo in North Dakota to accept orthopedic surgery patients while negotiations are underway with other out-of-province providers for knee, hip and other surgical procedures.
Sanford Health Fargo has been performing spinal surgery for Manitobans since the spring. To date, 27 patients have received their surgery at Sanford, eight are in the queue and another 84 are being processed as part of the program, Matear said.
"We’re seeing the increased volume there as we would expect over time," Matear said. "We are actively working on increasing the service lines that Sanford can help us with but also with other partners as well."
Matear said the first hip and knee patients could be sent out of province by the end of the summer, depending on a facility’s ability to accept Manitobans.
Overall, the task force’s approach to tackle the estimated 102,000 to 128,000 backlogged cases is to "catch up and keep up," Matear said.
"We are looking at how we will expand our health-care system over the long term… and therefore in the short term, how we can flex our current system to be able to accommodate increased capacity, and the remainder, really, we’re looking for out-of-province," he said.
The Manitoba government will begin to publish its own backlog estimates later this summer. Previously, advocacy association Doctors Manitoba provided monthly estimates of surgeries and procedures missed over the course of the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the group adjusted its estimate to be between 102,000 and 128,000 (down at least 38,000 cases) to account for procedures and tests that are no longer needed.
MacDonald said the new online dashboard will be routinely updated to include information on surgical and diagnostic wait times.
"This will give Manitobans a broad view of the work that we’re doing, where we’ve made progress and where we still have improvements to make," he said.
"A target is really important for two reasons: first it’s a clear signal to the task force and to the health system about government’s commitment to ensure that appropriate resources are mobilized to address the backlog. Second, what it does is give patients who are waiting, hope." – Dr. Kristjan Thompson
Doctors Manitoba board chair Dr. Kristjan Thompson said he is happy to see monthly, transparent reporting by the task force, but reinforced the need for the Progressive Conservative government to set a date to clear the backlog.
"A target is really important for two reasons: first it’s a clear signal to the task force and to the health system about government’s commitment to ensure that appropriate resources are mobilized to address the backlog. Second, what it does is give patients who are waiting, hope," Thompson said.
Opposition health critic Uzoma Asagwara said the task force’s update made it clear the government is not doing enough to get patients care.
"Not only have they refused Doctors Manitoba’s urgent plea to set an end date to clear the backlog, but they have broken their promise to have a fifth operating room open at Concordia by the end of the year," the NDP MLA said in a prepared statement.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.