3,000 orthopedic surgeries to be contracted to private surgical facilities in Alberta

Click to play video: '3,000 orthopedic surgeries to be contracted to private surgical facilities in Alberta'
3,000 orthopedic surgeries to be contracted to private surgical facilities in Alberta
WATCH: In an effort to cut wait times, Alberta is contracting out thousands of orthopedic surgeries to a private facility. As Jill Croteau reports, the province insists the plan will help patients but critics fear it will only make the situation worse – Jan 23, 2023

Independent health care facility Canadian Surgery Solutions (CSS) will be contracted to provide around 3,000 orthopedic surgeries annually in Calgary through a contract with Alberta Health Services.

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping announced the partnership at a news conference on Monday morning, saying the move will significantly and efficiently reduce surgical wait times in the province.

The move will also free up additional spaces in hospitals, which will allow health care staff to perform other types of surgeries, Copping said.

These procedures will be publicly funded, according to Copping.

Click to play video: 'Alberta faces criticism contracting orthopedic surgeries to private company'
Alberta faces criticism contracting orthopedic surgeries to private company

Copping also announced 11 new operating rooms will be built at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, which are scheduled to open in 2025.

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The province will also expand and build new operating rooms in Edmonton, Edson, Grand Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Rocky Mountain House.

The partnership with CSS is part of the Alberta Surgical Initiative, which was created in 2019 to tackle backlogs but was put on hold due to the pandemic. The initiative was credited by the government for enhancing the capacity for public surgeries, especially cataract surgeries.

Read more: Alberta government to fund more private surgical facilities to reduce hospital wait times

Hospitals across the province have been struggling to deal with backlogs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cancelled thousands of surgeries.

“People are waiting too long for surgeries… This is public health care,” Copping told reporters on Monday.

“Contracted facilities and hospitals are managed through our publicly funded health care system. Contracted services are publicly funded services just like the ones in hospitals.

“When we fund more services, the publicly-funded system grows. Hospitals and CSS don’t steal staff or physicians from each other.”

Read more: Surgeries delayed by COVID-19 in Alberta expected to be completed by 2023

The announcement comes after Copping announced last September that Alberta Health Services would be contracting more privately-owned chartered surgical facilities to relieve surgical wait times at hospitals in the province.

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This included an additional 1,350 surgeries in the central zone and 1,250 procedures in the south zone.

“Regardless of whether an Albertan receives their surgery within a chartered surgical facility or at an AHS hospital, the standard of care is measured the same way,” said Dr. Jason Werle, orthopedic surgeon and section chief for orthopedic surgeries for AHS’ Calgary Zone.

“The CSS is also regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta…  As a result, the care is safe and efficient.

“Many patients who have received surgery within a chartered surgical facility such as this have had a positive experience with the care provided.”

Click to play video: '‘You really feel like life is on hold’: Young Calgary boy with brain surgery postponed finally gets operation'
‘You really feel like life is on hold’: Young Calgary boy with brain surgery postponed finally gets operation

But several experts have said privatization would make no difference in emergency rooms because it creates inequalities, costs more and compromises quality of care.

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Calgary resident Diana Austman, who has been waiting for knee replacement surgery for more than two years, said the surgical backlog has always been bad.

She currently takes arthritic painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications for the pain and said the wait has been agonizing. She said she can no longer go on long walks with her friends or family because she is afraid of damaging her knees even further.

“It’s a cop out for the government. They’re looking for excuses for why things got so bad, and things were bad before COVID-19,” she told Global News.

“This is not a temporary backlog. They are practically destroying the old system during COVID-19.

“I’m so fed up with the government.”

Austman said she is worried that the government will completely privatize the health-care system.

“The way you see the government going, they don’t want to take any responsibility. It’s a slippery slope,” she said.

“I don’t want to be like the U.S.”

Opposition health critic David Shepherd told reporters Monday that contracting CSS for orthopedic surgeries will take resources away from the public system.

“The Alberta Surgical Initiative shows public capacity is being greatly underutilized by the UCP’s incompetence and chaotic management of our health-care system,” Shepherd said.

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“It’s clear private companies exist to make a profit. Every dollar is $1 taken out of the public system.

“The (United Conservative Party) has not offered a reason why increased capacity cannot be built within the public system.”

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