Surgeries delayed as N.B. health-care system grapples with COVID-19 staffing shortages

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COVID-19 staffing issues in health-care leading to surgery delays
WATCH: The number of health-care workers in New Brunswick off the job due to COVID-19 is being described as a crisis. It’s leading to delays in people getting non-urgent surgeries. One parent says his son’s eye surgery has been delayed five times. Nathalie Sturgeon reports – Apr 12, 2022

John Gunn is frustrated.

His young son is awaiting a non-urgent eye surgery at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital in Moncton and it has been delayed five times — mostly because of the impact COVID-19 is having on the hospitals and staff.

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “We’ve been through, at least three times, that it felt like it was about to happen and it didn’t.

“So that’s been three times of having to go through PCR tests, having to go through the pre-op, and talking with the surgeon and him answering my son’s questions, my son getting mentally prepared for it and picking out his favourite foods that he was going to want to have when he got home and having everything ready to go and then it not happening.”

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He said his son, age seven, isn’t in constant pain but it does cause him some discomfort.

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Additionally, Gunn said there is a requirement for his son to be COVID-19-free for six weeks prior to the surgery and that has been a challenge, especially with how it is spreading in the community.

“I’m not the only parent or person experiencing this,” he said. “It’s impacting hospitals so heavily, it’s impossible to ignore and yet we’re still hearing everything is OK.”

He said he understands that people are tired of the virus but the impact on the health-care system weighs on him and his family as it delays his son’s medical care.

“We’re just getting told things that are objectively not true,” he said. “We’re hearing from (Health) Minister (Dorothy) Shephard that hospitals are doing just fine, while everybody working in the hospital says otherwise.”

New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet said the system is not managing.

She said there are nurses at the Georges Dumont Hospital working 24-hour shifts and some units are operating with only one or two nurses when there are typically up to 15.

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Doucet said ultimately it leads to medical services being pushed to the side.

“Those are the realities of our system and those that are holding the system together right now. It’s not managing,” she said. “Yes, if you require health care, you will be seen and be provided the best health care possible but it’s not OK to say we’re just treating the sickest the quickest.”

Many emergency room departments are experiencing high offload delays from ambulances and have warned the public those ERs are unable to treat non-urgent cases due to critical staffing shortages.

“So I guess when both the medical society and the nurses’ union paint the picture that our health-care system needs that help now, I’m hoping that policymakers and decision-makers are listening,” Doucet said in an interview Tuesday.

Horizon Health Network says 217 surgeries have been cancelled in March. About 1,519 have been cancelled since the beginning of the year.

Global News requested surgery information from Vitalite Health Network but did not receive a response by deadline.

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