Manitoba

$100M fundraising campaign aims to bring new surgical, diagnostic tech to Health Sciences Centre

The Health Sciences Centre is set to get a range of upgrades through a $100-million fundraising campaign it also expects will help with staff recruitment and retention.

Campaign strives to improve facilities, cut down on backlog, attract and retain front-line staff

The HSC Foundation announced a $100-million fundraising campaign Wednesday meant to bring cutting edge technology and new specialized surgical and hospital spaces to Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre over the next six years. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre is set to get a range of upgrades through a $100-million fundraising campaign it also expects will help with staff recruitment and retention.

The HSC Foundation says the campaign announced Wednesday, called Operation Excellence, is the largest in its 46-year history.

"This is a bold plan, it's a necessary plan, a plan that will position HSC to be among the most advanced hospitals in Canada," said Dr. Ed Buchel, site surgery director at HSC and the primary author of the campaign.

The province has already committed $50 million, and another $25 million has been raised through donations from corporations and individuals, according to the HSC Foundation.

Buchel said the planned enhancements to physical spaces, equipment and infrastructure capacity will cut down on wait times, help address the diagnostic and surgical backlog, and provide more access to minimally invasive procedures.

The cornerstone to the plan is an investment in physical space and equipment to do more leading-edge, minimally invasive surgeries with smaller incisions, instead of more risky open surgeries when possible, he said.

Buchel also suggested the changes could help attract new talent and retain front-line workers.

There's lots of evidence to suggest that if health-care professionals have "the space and the tools to do their best work to provide excellent care, they are more likely to choose to stay with you," Buchel said at a news conference Wednesday.

Deputy premier Cliff Cullen, HSC Foundation board chair Tina Jones, HSC Foundation president and CEO Jonathon Lyon, Health Minister Audrey Gordon, HSC site surgery director Dr. Ed Buchel and HSC thoracic surgeon Dr. Biniam Kidane at the Operation Excellence campaign launch in Winnipeg on Wednesday. (HSC Foundation)

The six-year plan is broken into three phases.

The first is already underway and focuses on acquiring several pieces of surgical equipment for minimally invasive procedures, as well as developing new operating rooms at the former Women's Hospital on Notre Dame Avenue, said Buchel. Three operating rooms will also be constructed at the Kleysen Institute for Advanced Medicine at HSC.

The second phase will include work to develop HSC's capacity for endoscopies, enhancing its pain clinic, and creating four more operating rooms.

The focus of Phase 3 will include more private rooms in main HSC buildings and consolidating some clinics to allow for the expansion of emergency department.

The upgrades will help HSC boost its surgical and diagnostic capacity 25 per cent above pre-pandemic levels, he said.

"We will see measurable results quickly."

Liberals support plan, say more nurses needed

The announcement comes amid an acute surgical and diagnostic backlog — one exacerbated by the pandemic but that existed before COVID-19. The system continues to experience significant shortages of some front-line staff, particularly nurses.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the plan is needed, though he thinks it comes up short in giving nurses in the province reasons to stay and work here. 

More space and new equipment aren't enough, the St. Boniface MLA said.

"The single biggest obstacle to clearing the backlog is a nursing shortage due to years of mistreatment, forced overtime, and lack of respect for the important work health-care workers are providing," he said in a statement.

To address that, he said the Progressive Conservative government "needs to immediately address nurse grievances and stop treating health care workers as disposable."

Lamont suggested if the province was serious about the vision of Operation Excellence, it would fund the program fully.

Deputy premier Cliff Cullen attended the announcement in place of Premier Heather Stefanson, who is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.

He said Stefanson recognized early on in talks about Operation Excellence that it could have a "massive impact."

"There will be a lot of highly skilled experts required to make this happen," Cullen said. "We are committed to recruit [and]] train the specialists."

Buchel said HSC and Shared Health have been recruiting front-line care providers at a rate of three to four per month lately specifically in surgical areas.

As an example of the impact the campaign changes could have on the system, he pointed to the Wilf Taillieu Thoracic Surgery Clinic and Endoscopy Unit. Unveiled months before the pandemic hit in 2019, Buchel said the centre has had "excellent retention."

Impact of new tech, facilities

Beyond the appeal of working in a state-of-the-art space, HSC thoracic surgeon Dr. Biniam Kidane said the new unit enables surgeons to do things for patients that weren't possible before.

As an example, he pointed to Manitoba's first entirely endoscopic — no incisions — esophageal cancer tumor removal, performed by a team at the new centre in December 2019.

The lead-up of appointments for the patient was halved due to the technology, he said. What would've otherwise been a seven- to 21-day hospital stay turned into 12 hours.

"They had no cuts, no pain, and they were back to their regular activities the next day," he said. 

"It's [one] story of many touching ones like that and it speaks to the enormous impact of this innovative technology."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Journalist

Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

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