Government penny pinching means surgeries delayed

On Sunday, Feb. 19, at about 1:30 p.m., my wife slipped and fell on a snow-covered patch of ice in Wetaskiwin and broke her right shoulder and hip. She was taken by ambulance to the emergency department of the Wetaskiwin hospital. She was X-rayed and informed that her hip and probably her shoulder required surgery.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, at about 1:30 p.m., my wife slipped and fell on a snow-covered patch of ice in Wetaskiwin and broke her right shoulder and hip. She was taken by ambulance to the emergency department of the Wetaskiwin hospital. She was X-rayed and informed that her hip and probably her shoulder required surgery.

Since we live in Red Deer, we asked for her to be transferred to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. Even though her excruciating pain could only be managed by regular infusions of morphine, we were told that she would have to be kept in the emergency department until a bed was available in a surgery unit. She was finally transferred late Monday afternoon, Feb. 20.

A surgeon came to talk with her Monday evening, Feb. 20, and said that he would perform a partial hip replacement and repair her shoulder with a plate and screws. The estimated time for these procedures was Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 2 to 2:30 p.m. At about 2:45 p.m., he came to say that he was behind but would still try to fit her in to his schedule. He could not say for sure because the administrators of the surgery department would not pay nursing staff for working overtime, and he could not start her surgery unless he could finish it by the end of their shift at 5:15 p.m. That the hospital administration would choose to delay emergency surgery, extend my wife’s suffering, and add to the cost of her recovery by at least one more day (at $1,192 per day) rather than pay operating room nurses a few dollars in overtime wages was surprising and disturbing, but the doctor emphatically assured me that this was the case.

We did not know for sure when or whether the surgeries would happen on Wednesday, Feb. 22, but in the late afternoon the surgeon returned to say that my wife was first on a list of 13 but that his shift was finished and she would be cared for by one of his colleagues. She was operated on that night. Thursday morning, Feb. 23, the operating surgeon came to check on her. He said he had done what he had anticipated doing and that the operation had gone well.

In response to my complaint about the delays in the surgery, he said that such delays occur over and over; trauma surgeries within 24 hours, my wife’s category, are regularly delayed for another 12 to 24 hours or longer. He said that he had started operating at 8 a.m. that morning and finished at 11 p.m. and was still behind.

So my wife suffered needlessly because the hospital administration is inflexible with its budgets. But she also suffered for at least 48 hours longer than necessary because surgeries in general and bone surgeries in particular have been underfunded since the days of Premier Ralph Klein.

I see no evidence that Premier Alison Redford is doing anything to improve this situation. The problem is bigger than mismanagement; it is consistent, persistent under funding.

Yet Redford sings the same old song: Alberta has the lowest tax regime in the country. She claims that the provincial flat rate tax is fair, even though it is not, as such, progressive. She refuses to consider a modest retail sales tax, even one dedicated to health care and education. And apparently she has no intention of raising the outrageously low royalty rates paid by oil companies. (According to a recent report of the Parkland Institute, Redford’s new budget is based on collecting royalties of between nine per cent and 12 per cent of revenues. In 1978-1979, the Alberta government collected 40 per cent.)

My wife and I support a publicly funded, administered, and delivered health-care system. The care she received from the surgeons and the nursing staff at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre was first rate, but the care they deliver cannot be timely care unless Redford changes her tune and sings a very different chorus. Until then, those who need surgery for broken bones and those who have worn-out joints will pay the price in pain and disability.

Dale L. Watson

Red Deer

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