A huge elective surgery backlog in P.E.I. has patients frustrated and health-care workers scrambling to keep up.
There are an estimated 1,000 people on the wait-list for elective surgeries in the province, Health P.E.I. says. That includes everything from hip and knee replacement, to cataracts, to plastic surgery.
Wait times can vary even for the same surgery. Someone getting cataract surgery could be waiting for six to 18 months. For a hip or knee replacement, it could be six months to a year. Even a routine MRI is taking about 14 months, Health P.E.I. says.
Dylana Arsenault, executive director of hospital services and patient flow for Health P.E.I., says the situation is not easy on health-care workers.
"Every single day is a discussion about who can we get in today," she said. "Are we going to have to make any cancellations? And if we do, which service or provider will that be?"
Health P.E.I.'s Dylana Arsenault says the backlog is due to a combination of factors. (Gabrielle Drummond/Radio-Canada)
The problem is not confined to P.E.I., Arsenault said. Other provinces are also experiencing similar backlogs due to a shortage of anesthesiologists across the country.
But she said other factors are playing into the P.E.I. backlog.
"We have a limited number of beds in our acute care system, ... so sometimes there is a competition for those," she said.
No central list
Wait times can vary from surgeon to surgeon. That's because the Island has no centralized list of who's waiting for an operation, Arsenault said.
Instead, each primary care physician refers patients to a surgeon, and each surgeon makes their own requests to book a surgery.
"Right now, all of that is done manually," Arsenault said. "It's all done individually at different physicians' offices, and there's no way to kind of peek behind the curtain."
Arsenault said Health P.E.I. has requested funding to digitize and centralize the system, but it could take two to four years to set that up.
Islanders who are on these wait-lists said their day-to-day lives are impacted by the delays.
Dairy farmer Johnny Gallant has been waiting to get a hip surgery for almost two years. (Gabrielle Drummond/Radio-Canada)
Johnny Gallant, a dairy farmer in Saint-Timothée, has been waiting to get a hip surgery for nearly two years.
Gallant told Radio-Canada he's not able to do things as quickly as he used to, and is in pain by the end of every day.
Edgar Arsenault said he's been waiting nearly 10 months for surgery to repair his torn knee.
He said he's only sleeping about two to four hours a night because of the pain. When he was told he'd have to wait months for an MRI on the Island, Arsenault instead travelled to New Brunswick and paid $1,200 out of pocket for one.
Edgar Arsenault says he wants to get back to things like walking and working, but can't until he gets his knee surgery. (Gabrielle Drummond/Radio-Canada)
Health P.E.I. said it doesn't send residents off-Island for surgeries because that would only mean adding to another province's wait-list. Dylana Arsenault said that would only happen if someone needed a service the Island couldn't provide.
To try to fight the problem, Health P.E.I. has implemented what it calls workforce optimization teams.
"They look to see how can we work smarter, not harder," she said.
She said the teams have already increased cataract surgeries by about two per day on the Island. Health P.E.I. is also looking at options like same-day knee replacement surgeries so patients don't have to compete for acute care beds.