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More than 1,000 non-urgent surgeries completed since COVID-19 restrictions were eased: AHS

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WATCH: Alberta Health Services is working through a backlog of surgeries after a pause due to COVID-19. However, some patients still have to wait a while longer. Adam MacVicar reports. – May 8, 2020

Alberta Heath Services said more than 1,000 non-urgent surgeries have been completed in the province since health officials announced on Monday that it was resuming some scheduled procedures.

According to health officials, 200 surgeries were scheduled for Friday alone, and that doesn’t include urgent and emergency surgeries.

Types of surgeries completed this week include minor orthopedic procedures, urology, ears, nose, throat, ophthalmology, cataracts and some reconstructive plastic surgeries, AHS said.

“We know this has been difficult on Albertans,” Dr. Mark Joffe said. “We are sorry for the inconvenience, the pain, the distress that’s being suffered.”

READ MORE: Dr. Hinshaw encouraged by declining COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alberta

Non-urgent scheduled and elective surgeries had been put on pause in March as the health-care system braced for COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

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Between 3,500 and 4,000 elective surgeries had been postponed each week since the pause in procedures mid-March, AHS said.

Restarting some elective procedures this week is one piece of the province’s relaunch plan.

AHS said it’s planning on completing between 26,000 and 30,000 surgeries over the next six weeks, which is between 70 and 81 per cent of typical volumes experienced by Alberta hospitals.

The procedures will include between 9,000 and 13,000 scheduled surgeries as well as roughly 17,000 urgent procedures.

But some patients, like Laura Willes, will still have to wait for their procedure.

Willes has been waiting for a double hip replacement for more than a year, and was scheduled for surgery on March 18.

“It’s kind of a more complicated surgery than a regular single hip replacement,” Willes said. “It will require me to be in the hospital for three or four days.”

The main focus for AHS is surgeries and procedures for things like cataracts, gynecological issues, noses, vascular issues, urology issues and general day surgery and reconstructive plastic surgery.

However, AHS said that surgeries that require an overnight stay at the hospital are not being scheduled just yet as they work to ensure they have the capacity needed for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases.

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According to Joffe, health officials are looking at overnight procedures as one option to try and deal with the backlog of surgeries.

“Certainly in the next several weeks, as long as things go smoothly, we will be getting back to the usual procedures that will require overnight or longer stays,” Joffe said.

According to Friends of Medicare, an Edmonton-based non-profit that advocates for public health care, the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for the health-care system to evaluate how to prioritize surgeries and address wait times and backlogs.

“I think it’s going to be an incredible challenge, but not impossible,” Friends of Medicare’s executive director Sandra Azocar said.

“Wait times have been a situation that hasn’t been dealt with pre-COVID-19, so now what we’re going to have to do is get a commitment from this government to use evidence-based system improvements that will be necessary to make more efficient use of the surgical and diagnostic resources that we currently have.”

Emergency surgeries and urgent procedures have continued through the pandemic.

According to AHS, a centralized booking office is co-ordinating surgeries and procedure planning, and Albertans currently on the waitlist will be contacted in the coming days to reschedule their procedures.

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AHS said acuity and wait times will drive their decision-making around scheduling surgery and procedures, which could include surgeries being assigned to available surgeons rather than the one the patient was initially assigned.

While Willes is unsure when her procedure will be scheduled, she said she is optimistically waiting by the phone to get the call.

“I’m very hopeful I’ll get it soon,” Willes said. “We will be very happy and grateful when we get that call.”

–With files from Global News’ Julia Wong