The chief of orthopedic surgery at Kelowna General Hospital says that offloading some small surgeries to private clinics may be a solution to the long wait times and cancellations seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Dr. Steven Krywulak, there are currently more than 1,000 patients on the waitlist for orthopedic surgery in Kelowna – over a six-month wait for most.
He says that orthopedic surgeries have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, taking the brunt of surgical cancellations.
“If you need orthopedic surgery don’t hold your breath. You could be cancelled the day of surgery,” says Krywulak. “As frustrated as we are, we can’t blame anyone.”
He isn’t the only one who is discouraged by the cancelled surgeries. His colleagues and patients are also burdened by last-minute changes. Surgeons in the city have had to send patients back home after they have already taken time off of work and organized post-op accommodations.
Krywulak has even had to send patients home after they have already changed into a hospital gown. He says that the surgical cancellations are a result of a lack of staff.
The hospital is overstretched and staff is experiencing burn-out, explains Krywulak.
He says that nurses are leaving the profession, feeling drained after nearly three years of working through a pandemic.
The nurses that are still working are often redeployed to more necessary areas of the hospital, like the ICU, or are at home, sick, or caring for a family member with COVID.
“Current COVID-19 pressures have led to a staffing crisis that requires temporary emergency measures to maintain access to essential services,” stated Interior Health president Susan Brown.
“Interior Health is postponing all non-urgent surgeries as part of temporary service adjustments to strengthen patient safety due to Omicron-related COVID-19 staffing challenges. Urgent and emergent surgical procedures are proceeding.”
Krywulak says that labelling non-emergent surgeries ‘elective’ insinuates that they are trivial when in reality many of his patients awaiting operation are non-mobile and ‘crippled’ by their injury.
He suggests that Interior Health utilize the private surgical clinics in the city as a way to take the strain off of hospitals.
Krywulak believes orthopedic surgeons in the city would be able to perform simple surgeries that do not require inpatient stays at private clinics. The change would come at no cost to the patient, health care would cover the fees of the private clinic he says.
This unique surgical model has been implemented in Vancouver and Victoria, according to Krywulak.
Interior Health says in recent periods of the pandemic when non-urgent surgical procedures were being postponed, the health authority was able to recover the backlog quickly, without assistance from private clinics.