City & Politics

Regina: Keep your medicine cabinets stocked

If you need a knee replacement or some other type of surgery in the Regina area, better stock up on Tylenol. You won’t be getting that surgery any time soon.

The surgical wait list for the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) has grown by about 300 people since November, with more than 3,200 people having been on the list for more than six months or longer. The reason for the wait in surgeries and increase in people on the list is simple: there are not enough beds at Regina’s two hospitals, where the surgeries take place, to hold the people who need surgery.

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It is probably very easy to point a finger at the former provincial NDP government, which shuttered the Plains Health Centre in Regina back in the late 1990s to save money. The NDP closed many such hospitals all across the province – 52 to be exact – as a way to shrink the deficit and save money after some major debt was racked up by the Grant Devine Progressive Conservative government in the last 1980s.

The NDP didn’t win too many friends closing all those rural hospitals and in hindsight, closing the Plains wasn’t too smart either. But with Saskatchewan’s population below 1 million people, there wasn’t much concern about how this would impact future surgeries in Regina in the future. (I remember visiting the Plains as a young kid with my Dad, who was there to see his mom who had just had, ironically enough, knee surgery).

Fast forward to today and the surgical crunch facing the RQHR in Regina. According to the Region, a handful of people on the waiting list have a date set for their surgery. As for the 3,189 others on the list, they’re still waiting for something to be set in stone. Orthopedic patients make up the largest contingent needing surgery, mainly on their knees.

Not having a functioning knee would make getting around difficult. And if your knee isn’t working too well, you’re probably sitting around doing very little. And if you’re sitting around doing very little, you probably aren’t expending much physical energy or burning off the food you ate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Thus, a non-functioning knee most likely equals bigger waistline. But I digress.

This lengthy wait for surgeries means the Health Region is not meeting the province’s mandate of everyone receiving surgery within at least three months. The Region says at least 800 people have been waiting for a year or more for surgery, but there may have been some conflict in getting those people scheduled, due to such things as needing two surgeons for the procedure or the person taking a vacation or going to a wedding.

The former reason is understandable. The latter reason raises the question of whether the person really wants the surgery at all. If my knee was messed up, I would cancel my own wedding if the surgery date fell on the same day. Who wants to be in pain and discomfort for a year or more? Grab the opportunity for surgery while it’s still hot. Personally, my right shoulder is pretty messed up because of sports, and it took me six months just to get an MRI.

The increase in people on the surgical wait list is also the result of the two Regina hospitals having more patients than beds to hold them. Capacity at the Regina General was around 130 per cent in January, while at the Regina Pasqua it was above 100 per cent capacity. It also doesn’t help that neither facility can really expand outward, as both are in or near residential neighbourhoods.

You can’t even find decent parking – if you can find it – near the two hospitals, which means leaving the car at home and taking the bus, being dropped off by someone or parking far away and walking. Fun stuff for people who are immobile and have to contend with snow banks while getting to the front door.

Between eight and 12 short-stay surgical beds have been and will be opened up at both hospitals. While that may help in the short-term, a better solution is needed. Let’s be honest, a new and very large hospital built on the outskirts of Regina would probably be the best solution for the future. The former Plains is now SIAST, where students go for a college education, so repurposing the building back to a health centre is out of the question.

From April 1, 2012 to Dec. 30, 2012, there have been 17,000 surgeries performed in the Region. RQHR has also enlisted the services of Surgical Centres Inc. and Aspen Medical Surgery, which have conducted over 1,600 day surgeries. This relationship shows the Health Region is willing to hand over some surgeries to private health care organizations, albeit out of necessity more than anything.

If you have a right-leaning bent, you may have no problem with such things taking place. If you love your free health care and lean slightly left, you’re probably screaming “privatization, privatization, privatization!” in an apoplectic fit and pointing to how this will undermine one of the most valued services/institutions in the province. After all, CCF/NDP premier Tommy Douglas introduced free health care in the 1960s for everyone, which was then exported to the rest of the country (Thanks Tommy. Free is good).

Anyway, for people needing foot, ankle or joint surgery, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region has hired a doctor from Toronto who can fix those ailments. He’ll begin work in Regina shortly. Now if only there were enough hospital beds, that lengthy list of people needing surgery would decrease and most, if not many, would be free of pain.

Until then, pass the Tylenol. I’ve got some TV watchin’ to do.

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In a follow-up to a column I wrote a few weeks ago, Regina City Council has decided to not close any of the five outdoor pools. The plan had been to close two of them and upgrade the other three in some capacity.

Administration had set aside $800,000 for initial work for redeveloping Wascana Pool, including a conceptual and detailed construction design and decommissioning the existing pool. Instead, that money will go toward funding a study on how to make the existing pools more sustainable, with a report back when the study is complete.

Since two of the pools are free, which is a major benefit to the low-income neighbourhoods in which the pools are located, I believe the city may look at charging some type of user fee. But that is purely speculation, and with hundreds of kids using those pools in the summer, my best guess is city council will find another tax to levy upon the poor souls of the city.

Jason Antonio is the Regina correspondent for Spectator Tribune.

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