Betty-Lynn Nylen, 70, was physically and mentally exhausted from excruciating knee pain.
"To not even be able to perform your activities of daily living or have everything that you do impacted by pain … it takes its toll on you after a while," the Saskatoon resident and retired social worker said in an interview.
"It was just to the point where it was unbearable."
Nylen had been on the Saskatchewan surgical waiting list for a year in late 2021, and her doctor told her it would be at least two more years before she'd be able to get knee replacement surgery.
The surgical waiting list ballooned during the pandemic in Saskatchewan and other provinces, with COVID-19 taking up much-needed resources.
Saskatchewan had the worst wait times in Canada for hip and knee replacement surgeries in the first 18 months of the pandemic, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
About 35,000 people are currently on the surgical waiting list, per the Ministry of Health.
'Very fortunate' to go to Calgary
Nylen decided she could no longer endure the pain and got surgery at a private clinic in Calgary in February.
But it was no small feat — the surgery cost $28,000, on top of travel and accommodation expenses.
Nylen said she recognizes she is privileged to have done that.
"We were very fortunate that I was able to access that money. But a lot of people don't have it and don't have the wherewithal to get to Calgary or the support. My husband has been an incredible support," she said.
Dr. Ian Lutz, a Saskatoon orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee replacements, currently has the second-longest waiting list in the province — 18 to 24 months.
He said some of his patients have gone to Ontario, Alberta, the United States, Mexico and India for surgery.
"Some people have so much pain that they can't work and their pain wakes them up at night. I mean, it's terrible," Lutz said.
WATCH | Sask. patients waited longer than other Canadians for hip, knee surgeries
However, Lutz said it's better for patients to get surgery in their home province.
That way, if a problem arises post-surgery, the same doctor can fix it and patients can receive long-term consistent care, as opposed to the Saskatchewan health-care system bearing the burden of complications from surgeries performed elsewhere.
"We all pay taxes so it'd be nice if we could just find ways to increase efficiencies to be able to decrease those wait-lists," he said.
More OR hours, specialists
The Ministry of Health said it anticipates a request for proposal (RFP) for additional third party privately delivered, publicly-funded orthopedic surgeries to be posted most likely in early July.
From April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, private clinics in Saskatchewan performed 15,610 publicly-funded surgeries, according to the Ministry of Health. More than 10,000 were ophthalmic (eye) surgeries. About 1,700 were orthopedic surgeries.
Data beyond March has not yet been compiled.
"We are working to ensure the needs of patients are met across Saskatchewan," a ministry communications consultant wrote in a statement.
The 2022-23 budget said the province will spend $21.6 million to cut its surgery waiting list. The money will cover the cost of about 7,000 additional procedures this year.
"To achieve this we will be increasing the number and types of surgeries provided in all of our surgical sites across the province to ensure we're fully utilizing our capacity," the statement said.
Facilities "will see a significant increase in their surgical volumes" through the expansion of operating room hours and more specialists travelling to different communities to perform surgeries, according to the ministry.
"This expansion will have a positive impact on people who are waiting for surgery with a focus on the longest waiting patients."