The Health Sciences Centre’s surgery site director is taking the bull by the horns by telling the provincial government how it plans to address the surgical and diagnostic backlog with a six-year, $100-million plan that’s mostly funded and already underway.
The government has been roundly criticized for imposing consolidation on hospitals and staff without consulting them.
Dr. Ed Buchel said they’re taking a page from the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., by tapping into new technologies and better, faster ways of helping patients.
The HSC Foundation has been able to raise the money to get the plan, dubbed Operation Excellence, rolling. To date, $25 million has been collected from donors.
The provincial government pledged $50 million toward the plan on Wednesday.
Buchel said it’s a first for Manitoba.
"To have health-care providers put forward a plan, supported by philanthropy through the foundation, and simultaneously get government buy in? I don’t seem to remember another plan like this," Buchel told the Free Press after a news conference at the HSC.
"It’s pretty unique."
Once the six-year plan is in operation, the HSC’s surgical and diagnostic capacity is expected to rise 25 per cent per year above pre-pandemic levels, said Jonathan Lyon, the HSC foundation president and CEO.
Phase 1, estimated to cost $33 million, is underway.
Four new operating rooms developed at the former Women’s Hospital on Notre Dame Avenue and three in the HSC’s Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine will be in use by 2023. New, minimally invasive surgical equipment is being purchased, and a leading-edge surgical wait list information management system is being developed.
“The idea is to deliver care when human beings want to deliver care." — Dr. Ed Buchel
"We need staff, space, surgeons and systems," said Buchel. "We’ll have more operating rooms online in fall of this year. That means I can deliver more care in an appropriate time."
Surgical staff will be able to work daylight hours instead of trying to force them to work a night shift in the OR from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. after the day shift ends, he said. That will help to attract and retain staff, he said.
"The idea is to deliver care when human beings want to deliver care," said Buchel.
The HSC’s goal is to hire three to four OR staff per month for the next two years. Buchel expects to recruit full-time nurses from the ranks of those who have preferred to work part time "because we make them work when it destroys their families."
Buchel said he believes the strategy will work because those drawn to careers in health care want to help.
"It’s a great thrill to deliver good care," the doctor said. "The opportunity to deliver care to another human being when they’re in a time of need — there’s nothing that feels better," he said.
"If you give a nurse and a surgeon the space and the tools to do their best work, they’re more likely to choose to stay with you," said the doctor who has trained and worked at the Mayo Clinic. The renowned U.S. institution is able to respond to patient needs and change because it has a massive foundation backing it.
"It is nimble. It can go and get funds immediately." Relying on donors for health-care funding doesn’t take anything away from having universal public health care system, Buchel said.
"Public health care that’s publicly funded and doesn’t treat patients is not public health care. That’s a public bureaucracy," he said.
"Public health care is making sure that everyone in our public is cared for. This is how we do it," he said.
"We’re not taking charge of oversight or saying we’re privatizing health care," said Buchel. "This is how we maintain it for our kids. This is saying in Manitoba, philanthropy is important… We shouldn’t just (donate) to our arts and sports teams."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province needs to stop treating health staff as "disposable," and that the plan announced by the HSC foundation is overdue.
"The single biggest obstacle to clearing the backlog is a nursing shortage due to years of mistreatment, forced overtime, and lack of respect for the important work health care workers are providing," Lamont said in a statement.
"If the (Progressive Conservatives) were serious about getting this done, they would provide full funding to ensure better patient care sooner," he said.
The NDP did not respond to a request for comment.
Premier Heather Stefanson, who has tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating, sent her regrets. Deputy Premier Cliff Cullen took her place at the HSC event.
The $50 million the province has pledged to Operation Excellence is in addition to the $110 million it pledged earlier this year to address the surgical and diagnostic backlog, the press secretary for Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Wednesday.
Gordon attended the news conference but wouldn’t speak to reporters about the situation involving alleged abused at the Extendicare Oakview Place care home that went unreported for months. Two aides have been placed on leave as police investigate the allegations.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.