Nfld. & Labrador

Ottawa heart surgeons will make monthly trips to N.L. to help deal with backlog, says Eastern Health

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is reaching outside the province for help with a months-long waitlist for cardiac surgery. Surgeons from the Ottawa Heart Institute will be making monthly trips to Newfoundland and Labrador to perform surgeries.

Eastern Health looking to hire 4th cardiac surgeon

Eastern Health and the Ottawa Heart Institute have formalized an agreement that will see Ottawa heart surgeons help reduce the backlog of cardiac surgeries in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Radio-Canada)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is looking outside the province for help with its months-long wait-list for cardiac surgery.

Eastern Health has reached an agreement with the Heart Institute at the University of Ottawa that will either bring Ottawa surgeons to Newfoundland and Labrador or send patients to Ottawa for surgery.

"We just need a little bit of help right now," said Premier Andrew Furey on Thursday, announcing the agreement.

Surgeons from the Ottawa Heart Institute will make monthly trips to Newfoundland and Labrador. Eastern Health CEO David Diamond said patients will also be sent to Ottawa for surgery as a "temporary measure" to deal with the backlog of about 150 heart surgeries.

Neither of those measures are entirely new.

Eastern Health has been relying on doctors from Ottawa to deal with a shortage of heart surgeons in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2020, and patients from the province are already routinely sent to Ottawa for complex surgeries like heart transplants.

For Eastern Health's clinical chief of cardiac care, Dr. Sean Connors, an acceptable wait-list would consist of 50 to 60 patients — or about six weeks for outpatient surgeries.

"What we'd like to do is to be able to give someone a date for their surgery," he said.

Eastern Health’s clinical chief of cardiac care, Dr. Sean Connors, says he understands the mental and physical impact that waiting for surgery has on patients and their families. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Connors said the partnership with the Ottawa Heart Institute will give cardiac care in Newfoundland and Labrador extra capacity and flow for patients. The agreement is for five years but is renewable, said Connors.

Eastern Health on the hunt for 4th heart surgeon

According to Connors, there are currently 13 cardiologists and three heart surgeons in Newfoundland and Labrador. One of those surgeons recently resigned, but another is arriving July 1.

Connors said Eastern Health is looking to add a fourth surgeon to its roster.

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader David Brazil said he's in favour of the partnership but was underwhelmed by Thursday's announcement.

"We literally thought — I was actually excited — thought it was going to be the announcement of the cardiac centre of excellence that Dr. Connors and his team have been lobbying for," he said.

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader David Brazil says the partnership between Eastern Health and the Ottawa Heart Institute is welcome. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Connors told reporters he'd "love to see" a Newfoundland and Labrador cardiac institute, saying it could look like Eastern Health's existing cancer-care program.

"I think that we deserve, in this province, to put that lens on cardiac care, to really bring that theme of excellence and elevate it."

Connors said he understands the mental and physical impact that waiting for surgery has on patients and their families.

"I want them to know that we are doing every single thing possible to get their surgery done as soon as possible."

'Canada's heart institute'

Dr. Thierry Mesana, CEO of the Ottawa Heart Institute, said the new agreement formalizes the previous arrangement and creates an established program that will include regular visits by Ottawa doctors.

"This is going to be a big change because you're going to have more resources [brought] here, to treat the patients here and still more resources for more complex operations to be done in Ottawa," he said.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of cardiovascular disease of all Canadian provinces. Mesana estimated in the last year more surgeries have been completed by Ottawa Heart Institute surgeons in Newfoundland and Labrador than at the Heart Institute itself.

According to Mesana, this is the first agreement of its kind between the Ottawa Heart Institute and a health-care provider in another region.

Surgeons from the Ottawa Heart Institute will also provide professional and academic sessions for Eastern Health cardiac-care staff.

According to Mesana, the agreement will position the Ottawa Heart Institute as a national health-care provider, rather than an organization focused solely on patients from Ontario.

"This is Ottawa Heart Institute. This is the capital city of Canada. This is, in my opinion, Canada's heart institute."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn

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