CALGARY — The Alberta government plans to expand the use of privately run day-surgery clinics as part of a plan to boost procedures by up to 150 per cent.
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the province will expand the 43 chartered surgical facilities that are already contract with Alberta Health Services. The call is going out for new proposals as well, in order to ensure surgeries are performed within a "clinically acceptable time" by 2023.
"That's what the system is supposed to do, but it's never been done in Alberta or any other province," Shandro said at a Friday news conference.
"Beginning in the new year, hospitals and publicly funded chartered surgical facilities will keep on increasing the volumes in the province to more than 100 per cent of pre-COVID levels to continue to reduce the wait times here in Alberta.
"The system will ramp up to at least 125 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes over the first quarter of 2021. We'll be prepared to increase volumes to 150 per cent if needed."
Shandro said the shutdown of surgeries in mid-March due to COVID-19 led to a backlog of 25,000 cases.
So far, 88 per cent of that backlog has been eliminated, he said, thanks in part to hospitals expanding surgical hours into nights and weekends.
Shandro said the privately run facilities now account for about 15 per cent of 285,000 surgeries performed annually in the province. The clinics are under contract to provide ophthalmological and dermatological surgeries, ear, nose and throat surgeries, oral and maxillofacial surgeries, some gynecological surgeries and reconstructive plastic surgeries.
He said there will likely be six applications for a new Indigenous grant program from First Nations communities, which are eligible for $50,000 to help with developing proposals. But he said it's hard to say how much interest there will be when the call for submissions goes out this fall.
"We don't know. Quite frankly, that's why we're going for a request for proposals, because we're going to see who the proponents are who are going to make these decisions."
Shandro was jointed at the announcement by Chief Roy Whitney of the Tsuut'ina Nation near Calgary and Chief Ouray Crowfoot from Siksika Nation east of the city.
"We live in a province where health equity is a priority. However, in the case of Indigenous people here in Alberta, there is much work that needs to be done to improve health outcomes," said Crowfoot.
Whitney said there is interest in his community, especially in light of the impact of the pandemic.
"We've had a number of interested parties that want to negotiate and develop a chartered facility, a health-care facility within our reserve."
The province committed $100 million in March to renovate, equip and open new operating rooms in urban and rural public hospitals across Alberta so they can provide more surgeries to Albertans.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2020
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press