New Brunswick

'This is gross negligence': nurse awaiting thoracic surgery speaks out

A registered nurse who works for the Horizon Health Network at the Miramichi Regional Hospital is speaking out against her employer and the provincial Department of Health as a patient who needs thoracic surgery.

Gail Matchett blames staffing shortage on Horizon Health Network and Department of Health

Miramichi nurse discusses thoracic surgery issues

6 years ago
Duration 3:06
Registered nurse Gail Matchett believes that government mismanagement is to blame for the current thoracic surgery backlog.

A registered nurse who works for the Horizon Health Network at the Miramichi Regional Hospital is speaking out against her employer and the provincial Department of Health as a patient who needs thoracic surgery.

Gail Matchett says her stomach is in her chest cavity due to a hiatal hernia and she has been waiting for corrective surgery since October.

But with two of the province's three thoracic surgeons on leave, she is now facing an indefinite wait.

"This is a crisis," Matchett said of the lack of thoracic surgery coverage. "The New Brunswick government and Horizon Health are responsible for this and I can't see that they are doing anything to fix it other than to deny there is a crisis.

"This is gross negligence on their part and the taxpayers of New Brunswick are paying for it with their health," she said.

​Thoracic surgeons are specialists who deal with structures of the chest, such as the esophagus, lungs, and diaphragm muscle, but not the heart.

They treat diseases ranging from cancer to gastroesophageal reflux, remove benign tumours, perform chest reconstruction after major traumas and handle lung transplants.

The only thoracic surgeon in the Saint John region has been on indefinite medical leave for about a month and the Moncton region's only thoracic surgeon is also off for an undisclosed period of time for undisclosed reasons.

Dr. Edouard Hendriks, vice-president of medical, academic and research affairs, Horizon Health Network, told reporters on March 17 that all patients who required surgery had been successfully referred to other surgeons. (CBC)
Last week, Dr. Edouard Hendriks, vice-president of medical, academic and research affairs for Horizon, downplayed the seriousness of the situation, calling it "difficult," but not a "crisis."

Hendriks said all patients in the region who need thoracic surgery have been successfully referred to other surgeons and none have faced "undue delays."

Matchett, 59, says it may not feel like a crisis to Hendriks, but he might feel differently if he was the one sitting at home, waiting for surgery.

As a nurse for 38 years, Matchett says she realizes her situation is not life-threatening and other patients, such as those with cancer, need to be dealt with first. But she contends her case is urgent.

Until people start speaking out, I really don't think that anything will ever be done about it.- Gail Matchett, nurse and patient

She suffers a constant "gnawing discomfort" in her abdomen, pain, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. She can only eat foods that are easy to digest, such as soup and mashed potatoes, and has to eat small, frequent meals.

Some days, she's simply too sick to work.

"I want to get my life back," said the married mother and grandmother.

Matchett, who is considered high-risk because she also has rheumatoid arthritis, says she signed a surgery consent form on Oct. 1 and had a preliminary gastroscopy performed by the Saint John thoracic surgeon on Oct. 20.

She understood her operation would be scheduled within about a month, but was told to keep calling to check where she was on the waiting list.

Since then, Matchett says her symptoms have gotten worse, prompting visits to her family doctor and the emergency department.

She says a CT scan showed there was a rotation of her stomach in her chest cavity and if it rotates more, it could "strangulate" itself, which would be a "major emergency."

Matchett is worried because she lives in the rural community of Whitney. She says she's rather deal with a scheduled surgery under controlled circumstances, rather than wait too long and be faced with an emergency.

"Time is tissue and by the time they get me to where I'm going, I could be in a critical situation. So that weighs on your mind all the time."

She sent emails to Premier Brian Gallant, Health Minister Victor Boudreau and Horizon CEO Karen McGrath and was recently referred to a general surgeon in Fredericton, although she still hasn't been contacted.

"There's nothing wrong with general surgeons, but if you're going to undergo thoracic surgery and they're specialized in that type of surgery, then they're the ones to go to for proper access to your health care. That's why we have them," said Matchett.

"It would be like going to your dentist and getting oral surgery done that is usually done by an orthodontist … They're good, but they're not as qualified."

She says she's upset and frustrated and doesn't know where else to turn.

"I think its an issue that needs to be addressed," she said. "Until people start speaking out, I really don't think that anything will ever be done about it."