At least 120 elective cardiac surgeries at St. Boniface Hospital have been rescheduled since last fall, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

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At least 120 elective cardiac surgeries at St. Boniface Hospital have been rescheduled since last fall, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

On Monday, Krista Williams, chief health operations officer, provided figures that broke down the number of rescheduled surgeries per month since October. The most occurred in December when 35 surgeries were affected.

"We recognize and acknowledge that it is challenging for patients when their surgery, their elective surgery, is postponed and rescheduled," Williams said in an interview.

"We recognize the impact that this has and we are doing everything possible to try to avoid rescheduled surgeries, but we also recognize that at certain points, sometimes it’s unavoidable."

On Friday, Réal Cloutier, president and chief executive officer of the WRHA, told the Free Press a shortage of critical care nurses is largely to blame for a bloated elective cardiac surgery wait-list and surgery cancellations at St. Boniface Hospital.

As of Monday, there were 14 patients in hospital waiting for cardiac surgery, not all of whom were fit and ready to go, Williams said. Seven are slated for surgery this week.

There are also 104 people in the community waiting for elective cardiac surgery, 64 of whom are ready for operations, she said.

Williams emphasized that not everyone on the wait-list is immediately ready for surgery due to various health reasons.

WRHA chief health operations officer Krista Williams said there are 14 patients in hospital waiting for cardiac surgery, with seven slated for this week. (Mikaela Mackenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

WRHA chief health operations officer Krista Williams said there are 14 patients in hospital waiting for cardiac surgery, with seven slated for this week. (Mikaela Mackenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

There are three levels of priority for patients awaiting surgery: emergency and urgent (priority level one), semi-urgent (level two) and elective (level three).

Those in the elective category are patients who are stable but have some form of heart health problem. Their procedures may be scheduled after a wait time without undue deterioration in their health status, according to the WRHA.

The cardiac surgery issues at St. Boniface were not connected to budgetary restraints, said Health Minister Cameron Friesen, who on Monday was asked why the provincial government projected it would underspend in the health department by $240 million during the current fiscal year.

"I understand that while there are (nursing) vacancies in that area, it is not out of scope with historical vacancies that we’ve seen there," the minister said.

"I understand that those surgeries are prioritized — that the ones with the most acute need are still being done. I also understand that steps are being taken in the meantime to fill certain vacancies."

The nurse vacancy rate in the WRHA’s two cardiac critical care units (St. Boniface and Health Sciences Centre) is currently at 22 per cent, which works out to 17 empty positions in a baseline cohort of 79 nurses.

The most recent class of the Winnipeg Critical Care Nursing Education Program graduated 33 nurses in February. According to the WRHA, all 33 accepted positions in the field, 12 of them at the St. Boniface cardiac program.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu