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N.S. Health apologizes to N.B. woman after surgery abruptly cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols

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When Jean Hussell set off from her home in Cap-Pelé, N.B., to the make the three-hour drive to Halifax on Tuesday morning, it was with eager anticipation.

The 57-year-old woman was on her way to the QEII Health Sciences Centre for much-needed oral surgery to deal with a longstanding problem with her jaw.

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She had been in so much pain lately, she was unable to properly eat, and had been losing weight.

“It’s difficult to talk, it’s more difficult to eat,” Hussell told Global News.

“I’ve got to get this so I can get some pain relief.”

Hussell booked the appointment about a week prior. She had been waiting for about three months, and was able to book this appointment because of a cancellation.

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She said she was upfront that she only had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which she received in early June. Due to her vaccination status, paperwork from her doctor stated she had to obtain a negative PCR test 48 hours before surgery.

She showed Global News a copy of her negative test result, which was dated the Sunday before her appointment.

She said she followed all procedures, including screening at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border and showing proof she was scheduled for a medical procedure.

Hussell said she showed her paperwork to hospital security, as well as the check-in desk at the waiting room for her procedure in the Victoria General building. Everything seemed to be fine.

She was all prepped for surgery and was waiting for about an hour, when she was told her procedure was being cancelled.

“They said they didn’t have the protocol to deal with me,” she said, “Because I was out of province and I only had one vaccination.”

Hussell said she was upset and disappointed, and began to cry. What was worse, she added, is that no one gave her a clear explanation of why the procedure couldn’t go ahead.

“I never even had a chance to talk to a doctor,” she said.

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Hussell said she is hesitant to get her second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine because of personal reasons. Regardless, she pointed to the fact that she had a negative test result, and would have gladly been tested again on the spot.

“I shouldn’t be denied medical service to help with my problem,” she said.

“It was just a horrible, horrible experience.”

Misinterpretation of ‘clinical pathways’

In response, Nova Scotia Health told Global News that Hussell’s experience was an “isolated incident” and apologized to her for the cancellation.

“Nova Scotia Health performs surgeries on patients regardless of vaccination status,” wrote spokesperson Carla Adams, in an email.

Adams explained surgical teams use a “clinical pathway tool for patients requiring anesthesia during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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The precautions used are based on factors such as the type of procedure, the patient’s vaccination status and COVID-19 risk based on where the patient lives.

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In Hussell’s case, the procedure was an oral surgery and New Brunswick had been recording a higher number of COVID-19 cases than Nova Scotia.

“The procedure could have proceeded using contact and droplet precautions only, however, it was believed the surgery would require airborne precautions, which is a more complex and timely process that would impact other cases for the day,” she said.

Adams clarified that while it was believed airborne precautions were necessary, they were in fact not needed.

She said it was unfortunate, but had to do with the interpretation of the clinical pathways. She added NSH is now reinforcing the pathways with their surgical teams.

“We acknowledge a cancellation on the day of a procedure is very difficult and sincerely apologize to Ms. Hussell for the inconvenience,” Adams said.

Doesn’t want others to have same experience

Hussell said the explanation “doesn’t make me feel better about what happened.”

She said she also wants to make sure other patients, who may be partially vaccinated like her, or unvaccinated, do not go through a similar experience.

She has been in contact with the hospital and received an apology, and was still waiting to rebook her procedure.

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“I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait before I get another call,” she told Global News Thursday night.

By Friday, her appointment had been rebooked for the end of the month.

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