Local residents could see a major benefit coming from the new Mills Memorial Hospital now under construction — elective orthopedic surgery.
Elective orthopedic surgery, primarily joint replacements, is now offered only at Kitimat General Hospital in Kitimat and Prince Rupert Regional Hospital in Prince Rupert in this region but with the new Mills Memorial designated to be the northwest’s hub hospital for Level III trauma care, the possibility exists.
Health care planners early on assigned five beds for orthopedics under the heading “surgical beds consolidation – NW orthopedic inpatient surgeries” in the new Mills, part of an increase to 78 beds from the current 44.
The decision to expand to Level III trauma status with such major offerings as orthopedic services in Terrace dates back to a business plan crafted in 2018.
A Level III trauma designation means patients now in need of advanced emergency care will no longer need to be taken elsewhere for treatment which typically has meant a flight out of the area.
After receiving that critical care, patients are then transported back up north for recovery.
The staffing and service requirement is such that services be on offer 24/7. There are also going to be four operating rooms, up one from the current three.
Mills will be the sixth Level III trauma centre in the province and the second in northern B.C. after the University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George.
And a 2014 review of surgical services in northern B.C. recommended planning begin to consolidate joint replacement surgery in the northwest at a new Mills, describing it as a hub hospital for the region.
Chris Simms, a local Northern Health Authority official and a key part of the planning team for the new Mills, said it is still too early to indicate how many orthopedic surgeons might be required at the new Mills to fully staff up to the Level III trauma designation.
And he said the prospect of local elective orthopedic surgery has to be considered in a regional context as a pooling of the service as current planning calls for orthopedics to continue to be offered at Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
Depending upon availability, a local general practitioner might refer a local patient to an orthopaedic surgeon in Kitimat or Prince Rupert, Simms added.
“It would be what we would call a northwest approach,” he said of the pooling strategy.
Urology, ear, nose and throat and plastics specialists now based in Terrace perform outreach services at other hospitals, Simms added as examples of pooling in the region.
“The important thing is having trauma care here,” he said. “It will be so much better for the patients and families.”