No reopening date for Carman operating room ‘heartbreaking’: surgeon
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This article was published 08/02/2022 (405 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Amid a seven-week operating room closure with no reopening date in sight, a Carman surgeon says he doesn’t know what to tell hundreds of waiting patients.
Dr. Gerry Clayden is frustrated he hasn’t been informed about when surgeries can resume at Carman Memorial Hospital, which closed its OR in late December for repairs to its heating and ventilation system.
Clayden’s surgery and endoscopy wait list grows by 20 to 30 patients each week, he said, and there are already more than 400 in the queue. Most of them are waiting for hernia day surgeries or colonoscopies to detect cancerous or pre-cancerous polyps.
“I’ve run out of things to say to people. It’s terrible; it’s heartbreaking for me. I’ve spent my whole life treating people — I’ve been a doctor for 48 years — and now I have to turn around and tell people, ‘Yes, you need treatment, but I don’t know how and when I’m going to do it,’” Clayden said in an interview.
In an email to physicians Feb. 4, Mona Spencer, director of acute community hospitals for Southern Health, wrote the hospital is to reopen Feb. 22, with plans to reopen the emergency department 12 hours a day starting Feb. 28.
“At this time, the surgical program remains closed. We are anticipating to receive information in the coming weeks regarding the resumption of the surgical program,” the email stated.
In a statement Tuesday, Shared Health confirmed all surgeries in Carman were suspended Dec. 23 and staff were redeployed. No reopening date was provided in response to a Free Press inquiry.
“I’ve run out of things to say to people. It’s terrible; it’s heartbreaking for me. I’ve spent my whole life treating people– I’ve been a doctor for 48 years – and now I have to turn around and tell people, ‘Yes, you need treatment, but I don’t know how and when I’m going to do it.’”
– Dr. Gerry Clayden
A Shared Health spokesperson stated: “Surgery at the site will resume when demands elsewhere in the system have subsided. Surgical volumes will be added across the system, guided by clinical experts, patient needs, and availability of appropriate staffing.”
Southern Health previously announced the hospital’s inpatient and emergency services would be closed starting Jan. 4, until about mid-February, to allow for the necessary ventilation repairs.
Carman Mayor Brent Owen said he hasn’t received any complaints about the closure. He said the town of some 3,100, roughly 75 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, has been working alongside the health authority as “much-needed” repairs to the 25-bed facility continue.
In the meantime, local clinics have extended their hours and 911 calls for ambulances are being diverted to hospitals in Winkler and Portage la Prairie.
Clayden has been performing surgeries and medical procedures in Carman for 23 years. The doctor said he’s been unable to get answers about why the operating room reopening is delayed. Meanwhile, a handful of surgical nurses from Carman were redeployed to other hospitals in southern Manitoba to treat COVID-19 patients.
Clayden said one of his patients with symptoms and a family history of gastric cancer is waiting for a diagnostic scope. In December, he told the patient they could either wait for the Carman OR to reopen or go to a Winnipeg ER, prepare to wait for several hours, and beg to be seen by a city gastroenterologist.
“I said, ‘I can’t do anything. My operating room has been closed, and they won’t tell me when I can get back into it again.’”
For years, Carman’s OR has relieved pressure on city hospitals by taking on relatively low-risk day surgeries. Operating room time in Carman is regularly reserved for Winnipeg gastric surgeons.
The ongoing closure, Clayden said, only adds to Manitoba’s growing surgical backlog: “The system is broken.”
The COVID-19 pandemic backlog is estimated at more than 153,320 surgeries and diagnostic tests, according to the most recent tally from Doctors Manitoba.
The provincial government created the diagnostic and surgical recovery task force to take on the issue, but has not announced a projected timeline for work to be completed.
Doctors Manitoba, which represents more than 4,000 physicians, didn’t have specific information about the closure in Carman, but expressed concern Tuesday.
“The growing surgical and diagnostic backlog is a top concern for physicians, so it is certainly disappointing to hear about any operating room that can’t function. Patients, and their physicians, need certainty about how long their wait will be, and what the health system is doing to get them the surgery or test they need as quickly as possible,” spokesman Keir Johnson said.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.