Kelowna orthopedic surgeon calling on government to hire private clinic to help clear surgical backlog

Surgical backlog solution?

The top orthopedic surgeon in Kelowna is calling on the provincial government to contract out some procedures to a local private clinic in an effort to clear the massive and growing backlog of surgeries.

Kelowna General Hospital chief of orthopedic surgery Dr. Steven Krywulak says the 10 orthopedic surgeons in the city are operating at roughly 25% capacity.

Around 1,200 surgeries have been postponed in the B.C. Interior in the past three weeks due to thousands of healthcare workers calling in sick with COVID-19. Hundreds more were let go under the provincial vaccine mandate.

Orthopedic surgeries are amongst the first of the so-called “non-urgent” surgeries to get canceled when operating rooms go down, said Krywulak.

“But you should see the people who hobble in my office, they can barely walk a block,” he said.

The doctor says the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre in Kelowna has free capacity that could help get patients the surgeries they need, but bureaucracy is getting in the way.

“I've written letters to Adrian Dix, to the Premier, and I've had meetings with our MLA. All it would take is for them to pick up a phone and call [Interior Health] and say, ‘yeah, let's do this,’ And we'd be up and running within a couple of weeks,” Krywulak said.

Given the sheer size of the surgical backlog that continues to grow in Interior Health, contracting some procedures out to Kelowna’s lone private clinic is not a silver bullet.

“But you know, anything makes a difference,” he said.

“If we take the smaller cases out of the hospital, then we could do more hip and knee replacements at the hospital with the little [operating room] time we have.”

Krywulak says some of the “best and brightest” nurses and Kelowna General Hospital have now jumped to work at the private clinic due to better working conditions, so care would be top-notch.

The doctor emphasized that local surgeons are “not trying to pick a fight” with KGH administration, and that operating room closures and surgery cancellations have been unavoidable.

“But we've been proposing this option of contracting out since September.”

It's an idea Alberta is considering. Krywulak says the government of Alberta is in talks with the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre to help clear that province’s backlog.

Alberta health ministry press secretary Steve Buick says while they are not in “negotiations” with any clinic, they have “made some preliminary inquiries as part of contingency planning, depending on what capacity could be available and how fast we can ramp our own surgery capacity back up in the coming weeks.”

The B.C. Ministry of Health said in a statement to Castanet said there are currently a "small proportion" of day surgeries contracted out to private clinics in B.C. under terms that follow the Canada Health Act and do not result in out-of-pocket costs for patients.

"The contracts are established between the health authority and the private facility," the ministry said, adding the government "will continue to use several tools to address strains on the health-care system."

"The priority has been and continues to be, despite strains caused by COVID-19, providing quality health care to every British Columbian."

While health officials have said they are hoping to ramp surgeries back up in Kelowna in the coming weeks, Krywulak is skeptical.

“We don't really see how that's going to happen because the hospital is at 120% capacity every day,” he said. “And even though the infections are coming down, there's still going to be staffing issues. We've lost staff that are never coming back.”

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