Vitalité has helped 45 thoracic patients during Horizon surgeon shortage

Vitalité has helped 45 thoracic patients during Horizon surgeon shortage

The Vitalité Health Network has "helped" at least 45 thoracic patients from the Horizon Health Network during its ongoing surgeon shortage, including one "urgent" case, according to officials.

Vitalité does not have any certified thoracic surgeons, but Dr. Robert Deslauriers is a general surgeon at Moncton's Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, who has expertise in providing "minimally invasive" thoracic surgeries, said spokesman Thomas Lizotte.​

Deslauriers is scheduled to perform some elective surgeries for referred Horizon patients next week, said Lizotte.

"No patients will be refused," he said.

Vitalité has also proposed opening some of the Dumont operating rooms at night to perform the thoracic surgeries and keep wait times down.

Discussions with the Department of Health about keeping the OR open between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. "are underway," Vitalité officials confirmed.

"We have the manpower, we have the resources, but we need some time in the operating room to do it," said Dr. France Desrosiers, vice-president of medical services.

"We don't want our waiting list to be longer because of this workload. We can deal with it with more hours."

Thoracic surgeons are specialists who deal with structures of the chest, such as the esophagus, lungs and diaphragm muscle, but not the heart.

They treat diseases ranging from cancer to gastroesophageal reflux, remove benign tumours, perform chest reconstruction after major traumas and handle lung transplants.

New Brunswick currently has only one certified thoracic surgeon in Fredericton covering the entire province.

Horizon's only other certified thoracic surgeon, based at the Moncton Hospital, has been on unexpected leave for about a month "undergoing treatment," and there is no word on when he will return to work, officials have said.

A surgeon based at the Saint John Regional Hospital, who has previously been identified as a thoracic surgeon but is actually a general surgeon with an expertise in thoracic surgery, has also been on unexpected sick leave for about a month and will remain off for "an undefined period of time," officials have said.

He is listed on the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick and Royal College of Canada websites as a general surgeon, but had fellowship training in thoracic surgery in the U.K., according to Dr. Patti Forgeron, the president of Horizon's medical staff organization for the Saint John region.

"Thoracic surgery fellowship at the Royal College of Surgeons in England [is] our equivalent to Royal College of Canada," she said in an email.

Dumont dealing with OR 'crisis'

"Since the beginning of the thoracic surgery crisis in Horizon, the Dumont hospital has been working with Horizon in making sure all patients are taken care of with undue delays," said Lizotte.

Deslauriers has been seeing Horizon patients and providing teleconference consultations to Saint John Regional Hospital staff about patients and their continuing care, he said.

"A few patients were referred to the pneumology team for further investigation and the first elective surgeries on these patients from the Horizon thoracic crisis are scheduled to start next week," Lizotte said.

The latest proposal is to extend the operating rooms hours beyond the usual 7:45 a.m. until 3 p.m. "in order to keep the wait times acceptable," said Lizotte.

"The Dumont hospital is already in a crisis with shortage of OR time and long wait lists while new ORs are under construction," said Lizotte.

Nine new operating rooms, slated to open in 2021, are expected to reduce the wait times for surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, which are currently longer in Moncton than anywhere else in the province.

Recruitment efforts continue

Horizon officials declined to comment on the Dumont offer, and offered no update on the situation, other than to say recruitment efforts for two positions continue.

The Saint John Regional Hospital is recruiting a full-time thoracic surgeon "to begin practice immediately" under an alternate funding plan, or AFP, remuneration model, the online job posting dated March 15 states.

The estimated pay would be between $450,000 and $475,000 annually for 40 hours per week, according to the Canada Job Bank website.

The Moncton Hospital has been trying to recruit a second thoracic surgeon under a fee-for-service remuneration model for nearly a year.

There is a national shortage of thoracic surgeons, according to Dr. Christian Finley, a thoracic surgeon in Hamilton, Ont., who is leading a federal initiative to put together a national standard for thoracic surgery.

There are about 10 vacancies across the country, said Finley, who works at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton and is an assistant professor at McMaster University.