The closure of five of nine operating rooms after a flood at Red Deer Regional Hospital has "crippled" the facility, forcing the delay of hundreds of surgeries and making a six-month waiting list even longer, the chief of orthopedic surgery warns.
"It's been every superlative you can think of. Disaster, chaos — just unbelievable misfortune for the patients of central Alberta and Red Deer," said Dr. Keith Wolstenholme.
"I can't overstate that this is a medical, surgical disaster for Red Deer and central Alberta. We serve as the referral centre for almost 500,000 Albertans ... and we've been crippled."
On March 1, crews working to build new operating rooms on the second floor of the hospital broke a water line and flooded the downstairs facilities.
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"Pardon the pun but the waters were over our head before the flood happened, as far as patients being cancelled for lack of beds — too many patients, not enough resources," said Wolstenholme, adding that a six-month waiting list has been set back even further.
He said the hospital is working at 37 per cent capacity, adding that would be like Calgary losing all the operating capacities of the Peter Lougheed Hospital, the Rockyview General Hospital and half of the South Health Campus.
To date, 151 orthopedic surgeries have been cancelled. Moving forward, the average will be 80 to 100 cancellations each week the rooms are closed, according to Wolstenholme.
The hospital's specialty surgical services are relied on by almost 500,000 people.
Trish Kendze was excited when she finally had a date for her knee surgery, but is now facing another long wait.
"I've been waiting for months and months and months, like pretty much everyone else in Red Deer waiting for surgery," she said.
"And I got my surgical date here about three weeks ago, which was such a relief because then there's hope, you know you just have to hang on a little longer."
Kendze, who is on pain killers, says she's struggling. She can't go to work some days, she can't keep up with her children and can't carry her own groceries.
"My kids are really sad for me, because they know how long I've been waiting and how badly I need this," she said, choking back tears.
'It's failing hundreds and hundreds of people'
Kerry Bales, the Alberta Health Services official in charge of the region, says assuming there are no unforeseen circumstances, the best case scenario is for the operating suites to reopen "within the next four to six weeks."
"There has been a need for us to prioritize the surgeries that are being performed, so we have been making sure that we, first and foremost, deal with urgent and emergent surgeries and we have had to look at rescheduling some elective procedures," he said.
He said crews are working around the clock to get the hospital back up to capacity, but that's cold comfort for people like Kendze.
"I think the government needs to hear that Red Deer itself, we're a growing city and our resources are lacking, our hospital is lacking. It's failing those of us that need it," she said.
"It's failing hundreds and hundreds of people every day now.... That's hundreds of people like me that are now in limbo and suffering because of it."
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says she understands it's difficult situation for those with elective surgeries.
"Safety is going to be the number one driver and we are going to make sure those operating rooms are safe and clean before they go back up," she said.