Manitoba signs more surgery deals with U.S. providers amid backlog
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Hospitals in Minnesota, Arizona and California are being added to the list of destinations for Manitobans willing to travel for surgical and diagnostic care as the province tries to address a huge backlog of procedures.
The Progressive Conservative government has signed contracts with the Mayo Clinic and the University of California San Francisco Health to treat Manitoba patients.
UCSF Health will offer orthopedic shoulder surgery, including total joint replacement, for eligible people. The Mayo Clinic’s locations in Rochester, Minn., and Phoenix will receive patients who need cardiac electrophysiology, including some who may also need cardiac catheterization.
The province’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force is currently reaching out to surgeons and patients for referrals, a government spokesperson said in a statement.
“Our government and the (task force) is concurrently investing in increasing procedures within the public health system, building long-term procedure capacity within the public health system, and procuring procedures both in and out of province to produce the best results and enable Manitobans to receive the care they need faster,” the spokesperson said.
UCSF Health is scheduled to receive its first orthopedic shoulder patient from Manitoba next week as part of a 10-person pilot project, said Sara Schwab, international business development director at the hospital.
“We have an excellent orthopedic team, so we were really excited to start there,” Schwab said.
Manitoba approached the health network about nine months ago for assistance with its backlogs, specifically orthopedic surgeries, Schwab said. UCSF Health’s recently renovated Mount Zion medical centre is the hub for such procedures.
The first round of Manitobans heading to San Francisco will be seen for ailments such as rotator cuff tears, Schwab said. The goal is to perform more intensive surgeries, such as shoulder replacements, as the program ramps up.
Capacity exists at UCSF Health to continue to expand, she said.
However, Schwab declined to comment on how many Manitobans could be received in total. Last year, the hospital treated about 300 international patients, 10 per cent of whom were Canadian.
UCSF Health is scheduled to receive its first orthopedic shoulder patient from Manitoba next week as part of a 10-person pilot project.
“We’re waiting to see how the pilot goes and then it would depend,” she said. “We’re looking to maybe expand from shoulder on to foot, ankle, knee, and also start doing replacements at some point.
“We’re really interested in working with the Manitoba (task force),” she said. “They’ve been really great to work with and we want to do everything we can to make it a smooth process for their patients.”
To date, the task force has signed agreements with four hospital systems in the United States: Sanford Health (Fargo, N.D.), Cleveland Clinic Lutheran Hospital (Cleveland, Ohio), Mayo Clinic, and UCSF Health. It also has an agreement with Ontario’s Big Thunder Orthopedic Associates to provide hip- and knee-replacement surgery in Dryden and Kenora.
Patients must cover accommodation, transportation and meals but will be reimbursed by the government according to pre-defined limits, the province said.
As of late February, 197 patients had received surgery outside Manitoba under the program.
Sanford Health has performed 105 spinal surgeries and 36 hip and knee surgeries; Big Thunder has done 51 hip and knee operations; and the Cleveland Clinic has performed five hip and knee procedures.
The task force is on track to send 300 surgery patients out of province by the end of March, the province said.
It estimates 52 per cent of the known, targeted pandemic backlogs have been eliminated. Backlogs are defined as the difference between wait lists from February 2020 and February 2022.
Dr. Candace Bradshaw, president of Doctors Manitoba, said the contracts speak to the shortage of physicians in the province.
The group had expressed concern about the increasing number of contracts for care with clinics in the U.S. and other provinces while noting doctors want to see their patients receive timely care.
“Ideally, the funding should be invested in recruiting and retaining physicians and not sending patients away from their homes and their families,” Bradshaw said.
Political critics panned the agreements and said the PCs appear to be outsourcing health care through their reliance on out-of-country hospitals.
“Ideally, the funding should be invested in recruiting and retaining physicians and not sending patients away from their homes and their families.”–Dr. Candace Bradshaw
NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara described the contracts as an admission the government is failing to strengthen the public health system.
“For the government to privatize health care even further by giving these contracts out to other countries to deliver health care that Manitobans should be receiving at home is unacceptable,” Asagwara said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said pandemic backlogs cleared to date included relatively easy procedures that could be privatized. Meanwhile, wait times for more complex procedures continue to cause significant concern.
“All the really hard cases are still in the public system and there’s been no change at all,” Lamont said. “It means that our health-care system is, fundamentally, still broken because we cannot provide the care we need ourselves.”
Backlogs for shoulder replacements and cardiac electrophysiology are not reported publicly. The Manitoba government has earmarked $130 million in the 2023-24 budget for task force initiatives.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.