Northern Health is resuming elective surgeries that were postponed due to COVID-19. (Pixabay photo)

Surgeries in Northern Health area returning to pre-pandemic levels

Backlog of surgeries in area could take two years to clear

The number of surgeries being performed within the Northern Health region is gradually returning to levels seen before curtailment in anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Prior to the pandemic, an average of 1,550 scheduled and emergency surgeries were being carried out each month, a figure that dropped to 540 in April as hospitals emptied beds and heightened preparations to treat COVID-19 patients.

But now, with the COVID-19 curve flattening, hospitals are resuming normal service, says Eryn Collins from Northern Health.

“For the last time period available, from May 18 to June 14, there were 1083 scheduled and unscheduled surgeries,” she said.

Collins did add that surgery numbers can fluctuate monthly depending upon the type and complexity of operations undertaken.

As of June 25, Northern Health reported 65 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases since Jan. 1 with 14 of those listed as “ever hospitalized”. As of that date, there were no COVID-19 patients in hospital.

As with other provincial health authorities, Northern Health is also working on clearing the backlog accumulated during the COVID-19 preparation restrictions with indications this could take up to two years.

“There’s an emphasis now on day procedures, ones that are less complex,” Collins said of the backlog.

For Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace specifically, 99 per cent of the people who had surgeries scheduled until the pandemic hit have now been contacted regarding setting new dates and preferences.

In May, while releasing the plan to return surgeries to normal, provincial health minister Adrian Dix said it could cost $250 million a year to clear the backlog.

That would include paying to extend normal operating room hours and covering additional medical staff salaries and expenses.

In the meantime, Northern Health is awaiting the arrival by this December of five additional ventilators for its intensive care units in its hospitals.

Collins said the ventilators are part of Northern Health’s regular purchase program and are not specifically arriving in response to the pandemic.

Some of ventilators, she added, could replace current ones that have ended their useful life.

Northern Health now has 33 adult ventilators of its own distributed among its hospitals and five borrowed from what’s called the provincial “pandemic fleet”.

The five being purchased do not include the one now on order for the pediatrics unit at Mills Memorial Hospital. Money for that one comes from donations received through the R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation and will replace an out-of-date model. It’s also expected in December.

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