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Regina resident applied for medically assisted death after consistent surgical delays

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan surgical backlog leaves patients in dire situation'
Saskatchewan surgical backlog leaves patients in dire situation
Jolene Van Alstine has endured intense pain for six years as a result of Parathyroid Hyperplasia. She said that she could be waiting to years for a second surgical date. Van Alstine and her partner, Miles Sundeen, were invited by NDP leader Carla Beck to speak at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina about the dire situation they face daily due to the province's surgical backlog – Dec 1, 2022

Despite not having a terminal diagnosis, Jolene Van Alstine from Regina has considered medical assistance in dying (MAiD) due to the extreme pain she has suffered while waiting for surgical treatment.

It’s an unacceptable situation, says Saskatchewan NPD leader Carla Beck.

“Thirty-six thousand Saskatchewan people are waiting for surgery and they’re more than just numbers,” Beck said. “All of us know someone – our mom or dad, kids, neighbours, relatives – who is not getting surgery and living in pain because of it.”

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Van Alstine, who suffers from parathyroid hyperplasia, and her husband Miles Sundeen joined Beck and Health Critic Vicki Mowat at the Legislature Wednesday afternoon.

Van Alstine has been living with her diagnosis for six years. She has experienced abdominal pain, low blood pressure, frequent bone fractures, anxiety and depression.

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After waiting for a medical exam for a year, she has now been told it may be two additional years before she can see a specialist and be placed on a surgical wait list, let alone have her procedure.

While she has already received some treatment, it was only temporary. She hopes another treatment will relieve her near 24-hour a day nausea and vomiting.

“Every day she suffers, she has had conversations and released her medical records to a MAiD program,” said Sundeen. “We need help.”

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Those at the MAiD program have told her not to go forward with the application as her condition is not terminal. Sundeen, who works in Moose Jaw, said that he fears that she will take her life one day while he is at work.

“She has made that decision to go in that direction because she has no hope anymore,” Sundeen said. His wife has not left the house more than 20 to 25 times in the past four years.

They have been in contact with a medical facility in Florida who are willing to do a surgery after an expensive preview, however they are required to see an endocrinologist first to receive the recommendation for surgery. Sundeen said they started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the surgery in Florida but ended up refunding it to all donors after they heard they needed to see the endocrinologist in advance.

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Click to play video: 'Canada’s ER crisis: Doctors urge governments to find solutions for ‘dangerous’ wait times'
Canada’s ER crisis: Doctors urge governments to find solutions for ‘dangerous’ wait times

Van Alstine shared her concerns about the lack of urgent care in the province.

“I don’t understand why they don’t have an urgent waiting list for patients who are urgent versus patients that, you know, they need a little help, but they aren’t bed-ridden for years,” she said.

Premier Scott Moe said information from the College of Physicians and Surgeons has proved that there has been an increase of 107 physicians, including 51 family physicians and 56 specialists. He also acknowledged that there is more work to be done.

“Our Minister of Health is on the ground in the Philippines recruiting nurses, recruiting LPNs, recruiting CCAs, recruiting health-care professionals to work in our health-care facilities to support our front-line workers to ensure that we can move forward to ensure the investments that we are making and our surgical wait time initiatives… are showing results for Saskatchewan people that are waiting for surgeries right across this province,” Moe said in the legislature Wednesday afternoon.

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“Not only are we trying to attract more family physicians, but also specialists as well,” said Saskatchewan Rural and Remote Health Minister Everett Hindley, “and that’s difficult, it is difficult. We have made some advancements in that regard, but it is very competitive out there.”

Hindley expressed that he would meet with Van Alstine to discuss her situation and said that cases like hers are why government is doing all that they can to improve access to services.

“I think we are starting to see some of the results of some of the investments in this year’s budget in terms of adding more surgical capacity, adding more doctors, more specialists, more health-care workers to the system.”

Hindley said they are also adding more incentives and extra training for professions in Saskatchewan’s health-care system.

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