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Chatham-Kent Health Alliance surgeries dropped by 2,000 in past year

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The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance hospital group is recruiting anesthetists and surgical nurses to make up for the surgical backlog experienced in the past year.

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Lori Marshall, the hospital group’s president and CEO, said the fiscal year, which ends Wednesday, had about 2,000 fewer surgeries than the previous year, so a “surgical renewal program” is needed.

“It really is a proxy in terms of what the potential is there for backlog,” she said of the numbers during a media conference call Monday. “On the go forward, we will be measuring it through wait times to see how our wait times are measuring up against our previous wait times and our targets for improvement.”

Marshall said the new hires will help the health alliance respond to a potential increase in services to address the backlog.

Surgeries were held up in 2020 and 2021 initially by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by down time to implement a new health information system in the fall. Later, staff from the operating room were deployed to the intensive care unit.

The types of surgeries affected go “across the board,” Marshall said.

These include knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery and “general surgery cases like hernias,” she added.

The health alliance already had plans in the works to open an operating room for its reinstated urology service, which Marshall said will open “very shortly.” She said this expansion will bring the health alliance’s capacity to seven.

Marshall said the health alliance is still determining how long it will take to clear the backlog, but administration will be looking at going beyond its usual surgical plan.

“That will include everything from the potential for a new (operating room) opening, (to) the potential to do more on an outpatient basis and day surgery (basis),” she said. “We need to make sure that all of our expansion can be accomplished within the number of beds that we have.”

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