Montreal

Quebec to address heart surgery delays

Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc is promising to reduce the waiting list for heart surgery in the province after a 65-year old patient died while on the waiting list for a relatively straightforward procedure.

Man dies after waiting 5 months for operation, nurse shortage blamed

Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc is promising to reduce the waiting list for heart surgery in the province after a 65-year-old patient died while on the waiting list for a relatively straightforward procedure.

A 65-year-old man died on Friday after waiting more than five months for heart surgery. (CBC)
Jean-Guy Pitre, a retired police officer, died Friday after waiting more than five months for the operation to repair a blocked aorta, which was to take place at Montreal’s Hotel Dieu hospital.

Officials at the University of Montreal Health Centre (CHUM), said it was forced to postpone Pitre’s surgery because of a lack of beds in the intensive care unit.

Pitre, a resident of Venise-en-Québec, was a regular golf player and walked five kilometres a day. Over the past few weeks, however, he had been confined to his home and was having trouble breathing.

On Friday, he died at Pierre-Boucher Hospital in Longueuil.

"We’re very sad [about] what happened with Mr. Pitre, and I don’t think it is acceptable," Bolduc told CBC News in an interview.

More than 73 per cent of heart surgeries are performed within an acceptable timeframe, said the minister, who acknowledged the province is working with hospitals to improve access to ICU beds.

The problem, Bolduc acknowledged, is a shortage of nurses.

The province has already announced measures aimed at increasing the number of students studying to become nurses. He said bonuses are also being offered to encourage nurses to put off retirement.

Now hospitals in the area are trying to co-ordinate efforts to free up more beds in the ICU, said Bolduc. He acknowledged it will take time.

Stories like Pitre’s are becoming increasingly common at hospitals in the province where heart surgery is performed, said the head of cardiology at the McGill University health centre.

Catastrophic delays

The lack of intensive care beds for heart surgery patients in Quebec is causing catastrophic delays, and the only solution is to recruit and retain more highly trained nurses, said Dr. Jacques Genest.

Health Minister Yves Bolduc says more than 73 per cent of heart surgeries are completed within an acceptable delay.

As a result of the problem, Genest said at the Royal Victoria Hospital where he works —  only two or three beds are available each day for heart surgery patients each day.

The most urgent cases are first in line, and that leaves many who need heart surgery languishing on waiting lists for months, Genest said.

"It creates a domino effect that has been catastrophic for cardiac patients certainly on the island of Montreal — both the French and English side, and probably in Quebec globally."

Genest says there probably not a heart specialist in the province who hasn’t lost a patient waiting for surgery.

Every hospital in the province with an ICU unit is scrambling to hire more nurses, said Genest, but theirs is highly demanding, stressful and draining work — and that demands recognition.

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