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Surgery wait times excoriated

Aug 14 2012
Karen Anema is recovering at her Saanich home after having a partial mastectomy at Vancouver General Hospital. 

Karen Anema is recovering at her Saanich home after having a partial mastectomy at Vancouver General Hospital.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (August 2012)

A North Saanich woman is driving to Seattle to have a fast-growing cancerous lump cut out of her breast this week because she is still waiting to receive a surgery date from the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

Lydia Wingate, 79, a retired cancer epidemiologist, told the Times Colonist last month that she was outraged when told by her surgeon that she couldn't get operating time until September, due to a summer shutdown of some hospital operating suites.

VIHA says the summer slowdown affects only elective surgeries, and that urgent cases (including cancer) continue to be monitored and managed according to provincial wait-time targets.

Wingate shared her story recently in the hope it would pressure the provincial government to make changes and help other women - who don't have her background or options.

At that time, Wingate was still optimistic about her cancer, and hopeful the health-care system might pull through in the end.

She's no longer confident.

On Aug. 6, Wingate saw a Seattle surgeon for a second opinion. She presented all her test results, including an MRI, from VIHA. The Seattle surgeon determined the tumour is fastgrowing, even though VIHA never graded her tumour for aggressiveness, she said.

Wingate's operation, likely a lumpectomy, is scheduled for Thursday. A dual Canadian-U.S. citizen, Wingate has paid into the medical system there, never imagining she would need to use it again.

"I have been relatively calm but I am going there because I really feel like I can't be left in limbo any longer. Now, even I am getting rather stressed," Wingate said.

Wingate was dean of the college of health professions at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and dean of the School of Allied Health at the University of Kansas before that. Her husband, an obstetrics and gynecology surgeon, died in 2005.

"When the surgeon tells me a tumour is fast-growing and I can feel changes in it, I just don't want to wait any longer."

VIHA argues that B.C.'s health authorities measure wait times from when a decision to operate is made and a booking package is received from the surgeon's office.

VIHA said there was a case last month in which a surgeon's office made a decision on July 19 to operate but didn't submit a booking request until two weeks later, on Aug. 2. Wingate has been told by her MLA that she was that case. Regardless, she blames the administrative system for the delays.

The good news for VIHA, said Wingate, is she is now one more person off the wait list for surgery.

Karen Anema, 57, of Saanich, was diagnosed with breast cancer in late June.

She also opted to get surgery elsewhere when her surgeon said she was given a handful of operating days in August and that Anema would have to wait until the fall.

Anema jumped on a ferry to Vancouver, saw her family doctor there - she had lived there for 30 years - and on Aug. 3 got a partial mastectomy and lymph nodes removed at Lion's Gate Hospital, which is run by Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Anema wrote a letter July 25 complaining about the situation to Premier Christy Clark, the head of the Vancouver Island Health Authority and her MLA.

"The problem is VIHA's mismanagement of the resources they control - from medical staff, to infrastructure, to most specifically a lack of OR time slots afforded to surgeons - in particular during the summer months when the ORs are shut down," Anema said.

Both Wingate and Anema raved about the service they received from different radiologists at Victoria General Hospital. VIHA's "fast-track program" allows patients to have a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy in one visit.

Both women appreciated the swiftness of these tests and deemed all the medical personnel to be competent and helpful. But getting a timely date for surgery is another story, both argued.

In a statement, VIHA said it continuously monitors its wait lists to ensure "we are doing our best to provide services to those in the greatest need."

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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