Manitobans shipped to US for surgery

As many as 300 Manitobans awaiting spinal surgery are expected to be sent to Sanford Medical Centre, in Fargo ND, for their operations.

The move is an effort to deal with the province’s backlog of more than 153,000 surgical and diagnostic procedures, blamed on COVID-19 health care demands.

The province is expected to soon finalize a deal with Sanford Health, Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon told a press conference Wednesday.

No surgeries are scheduled yet. Timing hinges on COVID-19 safety protocols and Sanford Health’s capacity.

This is part of the plan outlined by Gordon and members of the Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force on how the province aims to reduce the growing surgical and diagnostic backlog.

Patients who have been on the spinal surgery waiting list for more than a year will be given priority. 

The province is also contemplating sending joint-surgery patients to Sanford.

“We acknowledge the suffering. We acknowledge the waits,” said Dr. Ed Buchel, the provincial surgery lead for Manitoba Shared Health told CBC.

Sending patients elsewhere in Canada isn’t an option because every provincial health care system is overwhelmed with demands from the Omicron variant, he said.

Health staff have been diverted from operating rooms to care for COVID-19 patients while surgery backlogs escalated.

Patients suffering broken backs, unstable spines or cancer are deemed too risky to be sent to the U.S. for surgery.

Preference will be given to the 150-300 identified patients with serious conditions needing urgent attention, yet are able to travel by vehicle to Sanford, 360 km from Winnipeg.

Doctors Manitoba hopes this is a short-term measure.

“Sending patients out of Manitoba for care is not ideal, but we understand the task force has very few local options right now because of the shortage of staff and the current surge in Omicron hospital admissions,” spokesperson Keir Johnson said in a statement to CBC.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic Manitoba was the only province that transferred critical care patients, 57 in all, out-of-province. 

The province is also working on an agreement with partners, including Maples Surgical Centre in Winnipeg, to reduce the backlog of about 3,000 women waiting for gynecological procedures by about one-third.

Task force chair Dr. Peter MacDonald, said some women have been on a waiting list since 2019, with two-thirds of those cases eligible for day surgery. 

Gordon said the province will also implement a diagnostic process called fecal immunochemical test (FIT) for colon cancer screening. FIT doesn’t require an endoscopy, thus, will provide faster screening and free up operating rooms for other procedures.

“This is a minimally invasive, highly accurate test – much more accurate and specific than the occult fecal blood test,” MacDonald said.

FIT could reduce the backlog for endoscopies by up to 15%.

The province also plans to hire and train up to 13 new anesthesia clinical assistants over the next three years, doubling the number working in operating rooms.

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard

Senior Columnist (Manitoba)

Linda Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard based out of Winnipeg. She has been an investigative columnist for the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, and Alberta Report.

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