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Sooke man told he'll be waiting years for hip surgery due to OR closures

The last time all of the operating rooms at Victoria’s two main hospitals were open was September 2022
Jay Hammond at his home near Whiffin Spit in Sooke. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A Sooke man waiting for hip surgery says he has been told the wait will likely be years rather than months due to the closure of four operating rooms at Victoria’s two main hospitals.

Island Health has said a number of general surgeries have been postponed at Royal Jubilee Hospital due to one additional operating room being closed Sept. 5 through Oct. 27, for a total of four ORs closed.

Jay Hammond said he got the grim news from his orthopedic surgeon last week.

“He told me that there are hundreds of surgeries that are not necessarily cancelled, but on hold because they just cannot get access to operating rooms,” said Hammond, 70. “He said with the backlog and all that, we’re talking years.”

A shortage of health-care workers ranging from specialists and nurses to care aides is affecting everything from hospital operating rooms to emergency rooms, with temporary closures becoming more common.

Island Health says an aggressive nationwide recruitment campaign is underway, along with training programs.

Royal Jubilee Hospital has nine of 12 ORs open and Victoria General Hospital has nine of 10 running, meaning 18 of 22 ORs in Victoria are available for specialists to perform surgeries. Even fewer were open during the summer.

The last time all of the operating rooms at Victoria’s two main hospitals were open was September 2022.

Operating rooms have gradually failed to fully reopen following holiday closures, the latest being one additional OR at Royal Jubilee.

With each operating room accommodating one to eight procedures a day depending on the complexity, that’s hundreds of surgeries not being performed or being postponed.

Island Health said in a statement it is committed to addressing surgical staffing shortages and plans to return to the full utilization of all operating rooms “as soon as we are able to.”

RebalanceMD, an orthopedic and physiotherapy clinic at Uptown, sent a notice to patients scheduled for surgery that the health authority had informed it of operating room closures in Greater Victoria for September and October as “a direct result of surgical staffing shortages in the hospital setting.”

The clinic acknowledged “the stress, strain and pain that can be caused by any surgical cancellation or postponement” and said the postponed surgeries will be rescheduled at the “first available opportunity.”

Patients were instructed to delay pending lab work until a new date is set.

“RebalanceMD, our physicians and staff are extremely frustrated by the current state of our surgical ecosystem and the healthcare system more broadly — we recognize and feel the impact that these closures have on each and every one of our patients,” said the letter to patients.

Hammond, who is six foot four, said he walks with a limp “like a young Frankenstein” and finds it hard to get off the couch — most, if not all, of the cartilage is missing from one of his hips, causing bone to rub on bone.

“It’s depressing — I can’t walk,” said Hammond. “It’s hard to walk my dogs over across the street to the park so the dogs can do the business, right? Walking up to the mailbox, that would entail walking up a hill and I already use a cane. It’s just too damn difficult. It hurts.”

Hammond said between revolving family doctors at his clinic, it took time to get a referral late last year to a specialist at RebalanceMD. That visit happened in March, when Hammond said he was put on a wait list for hip surgery.

Hammond said Island Health and the Health Ministry are underplaying the impact of having four ORs closed in Victoria.

“They do a disservice pretending like everything is OK, like it’s just some sort of little bump in the road that we can get past,” he said.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of people awaiting surgeries and now you close four operating rooms?”

While ORs and ERs are seeing temporary closures, the health authority and Health Ministry say statistics show ­operating-room hours and ­surgical volumes are actually up.

Island Health said it completed seven per cent more cases in 2022-23 than in years prior to the pandemic.

In 2022, Island Health assumed the leases and purchased assets from two private surgical centres — View Royal Surgical Centre in Greater Victoria and Seafield Surgical Centre in Nanaimo — which the health authority said has helped increase surgical capacity and reduce wait times.

“Taking over the leases and purchasing the surgical equipment allowed Island Health to expand access to procedures,” the health authority said in a statement.

Adding the facilities allowed for the addition of about 2,300 surgeries and 2,300 endoscopies per year, it said.

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