COVID-19 has caused scheduled surgery backlogs across Canada. Early in the pandemic, Alberta Health Services (AHS) estimated Alberta would be facing a backlog of up to two years. Instead, Alberta has developed a plan to clear the backlog and will increase surgical activity volume to 150 per cent to meet the 2023 Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI) platform commitment of providing all scheduled surgery within clinically acceptable times.
Beginning March 18, all scheduled surgeries were put on hold until May 4. This resulted in a 60 per cent reduction in surgeries, leading to a backlog of about 25,000 surgeries. To date, 88 per cent of that surgical backlog has been eliminated.
“Our platform commitment to reduce surgical wait times will be met, pandemic or no pandemic. Reducing the backlog by 88 per cent is a good first step – but we will need to push even harder in the months to come. I am also incredibly honoured to announce an Indigenous funding grant stream that will open up the opportunity for First Nations communities to establish a chartered surgical facility on reserve.”
In order to meet wait time targets, new and existing chartered surgical facilities will also be significantly expanded to provide more publicly funded surgeries, leaving hospital operating rooms available to perform more complex surgeries.
This expansion is expected to occur in both urban and rural communities across the province as a request for proposals generates new contracts. A formal request for proposals (RFP) will be posted by AHS in the fall of 2020.
A new Indigenous stream grant program has also been created to support First Nations communities interested in developing proposals under the RFP. Six First Nations communities will be eligible for grants of up to $50,000:
- Enoch Cree Nation, west of Edmonton
- Maskwacis, home to four Cree First Nation bands southeast of Edmonton
- Tsuut’ina Nation, southwest of Calgary
- Bigstone Cree Nation, southwest of Fort McMurray, with a health facility in Edmonton
- Siksika Nation, southeast of Calgary
- Blood Tribe, southwest of Lethbridge
“This is an exciting opportunity for Tsuut’ina Nation, since we are already working on developing a quality care facility on our land. A chartered surgical facility could complement this work and be part of our vision to improve quality of care for our Nation members, as well as people off reserve. I’m pleased to see government’s ongoing commitment to support First Nations-based economic opportunities.”
“Siksika Nation is a leader in the area of health, not only on reservation lands but for all of southern Alberta. We pride ourselves on providing first-rate services and a first-rate program that just happens to be located on a reservation. With the support of the Government of Alberta, and with funding to assist Siksika to provide necessary upgrades, we feel the positive results will prove to be a great return on every dollar Alberta invests in our community.”
- As of Sept. 9, AHS is performing almost 88 per cent of pre-pandemic surgical volume compared to the low of 40 per cent early in the pandemic. AHS continues to increase volume and will reach 100 per cent before the end of the year.
- AHS will then exceed pre-COVID surgical volumes early in 2021, reaching 125 per cent and then up to 150 per cent in order to reach 2023 Alberta Surgical Initiative targets.
- A February 2020 request for expressions of interest generated 42 submissions from existing chartered surgical facilities or new operators who have proposed to provide up to 200,000 more surgeries in facilities in all five provincial health zones.
- Alberta first began offering some publicly funded surgical procedures in chartered surgical facilities in the early 1990s. That contracted work has grown over the decades, with 43 of chartered surgical facilities now under contract with AHS to provide ophthalmological and dermatological surgeries, ear, nose and throat surgeries, oral and maxillofacial surgeries, some gynecological surgeries and reconstructive plastic surgeries. These are publicly funded procedures performed in private facilities in the community, which allows AHS – like many other health systems across Canada – to expand surgeries and reduce wait times.
- In March 2020, the province committed $100 million to renovate, equip and open new operating rooms in urban and rural public hospitals across Alberta so they can provide more surgeries to Albertans.
- The planning work began earlier this year, with designs beginning in August and construction expected to start in 2021.