CALGARY — By the time Dan Dlugosz finally gets surgery to replace both of his hips, he says he will have waited almost three years for the life-changing procedure.
After 14 months of waiting, the senior will see a surgeon at the end of June for a consultation, and then is expected to wait another 18 months before he sees the operating room.
“The pain is there. I can walk maybe a block and I sit and rest and then I can get up and some other stuff but it’s painful,” said Dlugosz.
“I don’t want to be sitting or moving around in a wheel chair. I want to get this done before it gets to that point.”
Dlugosz’s wife, Brenda Smith, also needed surgery to replace her hips. She waited 16 months and finally got it done prior to the pandemic.
Smith says she spoke to her surgeon who says the long wait times for joint replacement surgeries in the province were an issue long before the global health crisis hit.
“He said to us that COVID has exposed the problems dramatically and that Alberta Health Services’ inaction on exploding wait times for many years has left us with no surplus capacity and no way to correct this problem,” she said.
Smith adds her surgeon said Alberta has a massive shortage of operating rooms, surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, support staff and beds.
The couple even considered going to Mexico to get the surgery done for Dlugosz.
“We’ve been looking into going out of country but our doctor said, you don’t know what kind of replacement you’re getting and it might not be top of the line kind of thing,” said Dlugosz.
Late Friday afternoon, an Alberta Health Service spokesperson responded to questions from CTV concerning wait times for elective surgeries.
They said that currently, the wait time for elective surgeries is 55 weeks, up from its pre-pandemic level of 44 weeks.
“AHS, along with Alberta Health, is continuing to work on a Surgical Recovery Plan tied into the Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI) that collaborates with healthcare partners to reduce wait times, add capacity, and improve the entire surgical system to ensure all Albertans receive scheduled surgeries within clinically appropriate wait times by 2023,” the statement said.
“AHS is currently working through the province’s surgical backlog brought on by the pandemic. Due to the surge of case numbers in November from the COVID-19 pandemic, it may take a little longer to return to pre-pandemic levels.”
“The return to pre-pandemic levels may vary with virus activity and potential future outbreaks,” it added.
Health ministry spokesperson Steve Buick also responded to a question from CTV, adding “Through the Alberta Surgical Initiative, we’ve committed to Albertans that every patient who needs scheduled surgery will get it within a clinically appropriate time by 2023.”
“That includes doing scheduled hip replacements within six months.”
According the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute, between January and March, the average wait for a consultation with a surgeon for hip and knee replacements in Alberta was about 38.6 weeks, and in Calgary about 43.9 weeks.
Between October and December 2020, the average wait for hip surgery in Alberta was about 33.6 weeks, and in Calgary 35.9 weeks.
Dlugosz says he is frustrated his wait time is much longer than the average. The couple says there is a private clinic in Calgary that performs hip replacements but were told they don’t qualify.
“I was asking the doctor about this and he said, ‘oh well, that’s only for people out-of-province or out of country.’ I said, now that’s crazy, why can’t Albertans access it?” said Smith.
AHS spokesperson James Woods addressed the issue, saying, “Clearpoint provides surgeries for WCB cases, but does not offer elective hip replacement surgeries under contract to AHS.”
“Independent providers are a critical part of our Surgical Recovery Plan and the overall ASI. We are funding more surgeries in hospitals as well as contracting more surgeries to independent providers, and bringing new providers into the system through an RFP process to increase capacity for a range of surgeries, including potentially hip and knee replacements.”