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‘I’m waiting by the phone’: B.C. patients face painful wait for surgeries cancelled for COVID-19

Coronavirus surgical backlog concerns
WATCH: More than 11,000 'non-emergency' surgeries have now been postponed as a result of the B.C. Government's decision to clear out the province's hospitals and make room for coronavirus patients, So what happens to all those people, and how will the system clear that growing backlog when the crisis ends? Nadia Stewart reports.

As a nurse, Alysa Stephens knows just how important preparing B.C.’s hospitals for a possible wave of COVID-19 infections is.

But as a patient, she’s frustrated.

Stephens has been sidelined from her job by an injury that’s left her with compressed nerves under her neck.

The Langley resident is grappling with numbness and pain, and has been told without surgery soon, she could see permanent damage.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: B.C. to cancel all non-urgent surgeries to free up beds for possible patients

That operation was just weeks away when the province moved on March 18 to cancel about 11,000 scheduled surgeries to free up beds in the province’s hospitals.

“I cried. I did. Very hard,” she told Global News.

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Cancer surgeries reprioritized during COVID-19 pandemic
Cancer surgeries reprioritized during COVID-19 pandemic

“It’s hard because as a nurse I know the importance of everything and why things are being done, but on the other hand, I’m not alone in this, being so close to having a surgery that will hopefully give me my quality of life back and allow me to get back to work, it’s just stripped right from under you.”

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The move to cancel surgeries has emptied about a third of acute care beds in the province.

As of Monday, there were more than 4,800 vacant beds in B.C. hospitals and 137 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 11 new deaths in B.C. as total number of cases nears 1,500

Health Minister Adrian Dix has repeatedly acknowledged the cancellations will mean a massive disruption for some people, but says bringing them back will depend on how well B.C. flattens the curve of infection.

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Doctors of B.C. president Kathleen Ross said the province and surgeons are working on a plan to clear the backlog of surgeries piling up as the pandemic drags on.

But Ross said there’s still no timeline to get those surgeries back underway.

Nearly 7,500 surgeries across Alberta postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic
Nearly 7,500 surgeries across Alberta postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic

“Its so early in the days for this plan that its too set anything in stone,” she said.

“When we start to get to the other side of the curve, particularly the downward turn on wave one [of the pandemic], we should be able to look at improving access to elective surgeries.”
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The province is turning to the False Creek Surgical Centre, a private health-care facility, as one way to try and clear the backlog.

Clearpoint Health Network CFO Sid Sharma says the facility has three operating rooms, along with other advantages.

“We can work six days a week, we’re not limited to office hours,” he said. “Even at a conservative end, we can look at 3,000, 3,500 day surgeries a year.”

READ MORE: First thing Canadians want to do after COVID-19? Hug loved ones, poll says

The Fraser Institute, a long-time advocate of easing restrictions on for-profit health care, argues once the pandemic eases the province should allow people who can pay for faster surgeries to have them — thus taking pressure off the public system.

As for Stephens, she doesn’t care where the care comes, just as long as it comes as soon as possible.

“I need this surgery. I’d be willing to pay for it if I had to,” she said.

“Every day I’m waiting by the phone to get that phone call to say we can go ahead with it.”

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