Manitoba plans to send up to 300 spine surgery patients to Fargo

Manitoba will send up to 300 patients awaiting spine surgery in Fargo, ND, for surgery — and may also send joint surgery patients south.

The province is finalizing an agreement with Sanford Health, a Dakotas-based nonprofit health care system, to perform surgeries on spine patients who have already waited more than a year, enduring chronic pain and impaired mobility during the process.

“We recognize the suffering. We recognize the expectations,” said Dr. Ed Buchel, provincial surgical lead for Manitoba Shared Health, adding that there was no option to send patients elsewhere in Canada because each province is struggling to respond to health care demands. of Omicron’s surge.

“We [must] do something now and recognize that we don’t have a system that can handle this. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the fact that we have to build.”

No one with a broken back, unstable spine or cancer will be sent to Fargo, Buchel said. Sending urgent cases south would be too overwhelming for families, he added.

Buchel said Shared Health has identified 150 to 300 spinal surgery patients who are healthy enough to drive to Fargo, but whose conditions are too serious to report further.

“These are not super easy cases that we can treat on an outpatient basis. These are not our super difficult cases or our very acute cases. They are in the middle and they are the group that waits the longest,” he said. -he declares.

“These patients were waiting too long before the pandemic, and now it is prolonging their wait even further.”

The number of patients who actually make the trip will depend on Sanford Health’s capacity and COVID safety protocols, Health Minister Audrey Gordon’s office said.

The waiting list for surgery has grown

Buchel said the spine surgery waitlist — just one item in a provincial backlog of more than 150,000 surgeries and other medical procedures — has continued to grow in recent weeks, thanks to the diversion of hospital staff. from operating rooms to COVID-19 care.

Shared Health continues to reduce its surgical capacity due to the Omicron surge, he said, even as a provincial task force works on plans to expand it.

The Sanford Medical Center in Fargo is located 360 kilometers south of Winnipeg. (Sanford Health)

Only patients willing and able to travel to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo will be screened, Buchel said. Their family members are entitled to the same provincial financial aid they would receive if they were traveling for medical procedures in Canada, he said.

The first patients will travel to Fargo next week or the week after. Patients will be traveling to Fargo for months as Manitoba works to increase surgical capacity, Buchel said.

He said he couldn’t estimate how much surgeries in Fargo would cost the province. Sanford Health charges rates comparable to the cost of procedures performed by public health care in Canada, he said.

Three of the doctors who will do the work in Fargo were trained in Canada, including two trained in Winnipeg, he said.

Extended care

Buchel said the province may also send joint surgery patients south and will make further announcements on backlog reduction measures in the coming weeks.

“I don’t want anyone in the population to think that their surgical leaders or the government are giving up and saying, ‘We can’t provide care, we don’t have a plan and our plan is we’re going to ship everything. world in the United States.’ It’s not our plan. This is not a sustainable model of care for our province,” he said.

“We need to care for our people in our province [with] our provincial health care providers. And if we don’t provide enough care, we need to extend that care. But it takes time.”

Doctors Manitoba, which has been pushing the province to address its backlog of surgeries, said it hopes transferring patients to the United States will be a short-term solution.

“Sending patients out of Manitoba for care is not ideal, but we understand that the task force has very few local options at this time due to staff shortages and the current increase in admissions to Omicron Hospital,” spokesman Keir Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson noted that for a brief period two decades ago, under an NDP government, Manitoba sent radiation therapy patients to the United States.

Dr Eric Jacobsohn, an ICU doctor in Winnipeg who has criticized the Progressive Conservative government’s way of handling health care, said it “makes perfect sense” to send medical workers to the United States. patients with a long history of spine surgery.

“Of course it’s not ideal, but we’re not in an ideal time, so it’s a welcome development and credit where credit is due,” Jacobsohn said.

Even so, he noted that Manitoba wouldn’t be in this position if the province hadn’t “bare the system” to the point where patients had to wait months and years for spine surgery.

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