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‘Lost in the system’: Timmins family waiting months for tumour surgery due to health care shortage

Posted: September 29, 2022

(September 28, 2022)

By: Sergio Arangio, CTV Northern Ontario

Brittany Roberge, a mother in Timmins, Ont., is speaking out about the current state of Ontario’s health care system as her 12-year-old daughter, Paige, faces repeated delays in removing a large tumour near her kidney.

Roberge told CTV News that local doctors discovered the growth back in May and referred Paige to Toronto’s SickKids Hospital for the next steps and determined it had to be removed within the month.

The family has been waiting to be scheduled for surgery ever since.

“The surgery was supposed to happen pretty quickly because of where the tumour is and the structures that it’s pushing up against,” said Roberge.

“It was kind of important to get it out quick and we’ve been waiting for five months now.”

She said SickKids told her it has a shortage of post-surgery recovery beds for non- urgent patients and with every passing month, she gets another call from the hospital saying it’s hoping to schedule Paige’s surgery the following month and has not forgotten about her daughter.

CTV News contacted SickKids to confirm its hospital bed capacity, but has not yet received a response.

“Because of the size of (the tumour), it kind of increases the likelihood that it can be cancerous and the longer we let it grow, the more likely it is to be that way,” Roberge said.

‘Feeling lost in the system’

Moreover, since moving to Timmins over two years ago, Roberge said she’s been facing an age-old northern Ontario health care issue of being unable to find a family doctor.

In this case, a physician would be able to provide follow-up care for Paige to monitor the tumour for further complications and health impacts.

Instead, Roberge said the family is left anxious, not knowing the state of the tumour and no sign of when things will improve.

“We’re feeling a little bit lost in the system,” she said.

That’s a feeling health-care advocates tell CTV News many non-urgent patients have been dealing with.

The chair of the Ontario Health Coalition, Ross Sutherland, said staffing shortages and decades of underfunding have contributed to the current health care crisis that has seen emergency rooms shut down and non-urgent surgeries pushed back.

Sutherland said burnout in the industry has seen health-care staff retire early or quit, while government reluctance to adjust wages to inflation is resulting in fewer workers eager to fill the vacant spots.

As well, he said Ontario’s health care system has been severely lacking in the facilities needed to ensure everyone has access to the care they need.

“We don’t have enough beds to take care of people who need hospital care,” said Sutherland.

“If you go in for a non-urgent surgery, you have to have a bed to recover in. You also have to have the capacity, in case something goes wrong, to transfer that patient to an ICU.”

Ford government’s health care plan

Sutherland said he feels the Ford government’s move to invest in private health care is a mistake that will only take critical staff away from public health care when investing more in public facilities and workers would be more sustainable solutions in the long- term.

“You need a government which is committed to a public health care system to make that happen,” he said.

“At this point in time, we have a government that is committed to fragmenting it more into some parts of public health care here, parts of for-profit health care there, parts of home care here, parts of this there, cutting wages here. They don’t have a plan.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health told CTV News in an email that its surgical recovery strategy is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to ramp up surgeries and related services and giving hospitals money to find new solutions to surgery backlogs.

The ministry also noted the range of ambulatory surgical services offered at various hospitals, including private facilities, to help address wait times.

‘We just sit here nervous’

But while the Roberge family waits for Paige’s surgery, they worry that they may be “stuck in northern Ontario with access to nobody.”

Paige is looking ahead to high school, wants to become a teacher and plays several musical instruments, and doesn’t want a lack of health care to cloud her excitement for the future, her mother said.

“She’s just the best kid and this is kind of tragic to be happening to her,” Roberge said. “We just sit here nervous and worried every day.”

CTV News contacted the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario for information on doctors in the northeast currently accepting patients, but have not yet received a reply.

After reaching out to the office of Timmins MPP George Pirie, his staff said they have now contacted the Roberge family and the Ministry of Health to look for a solution.

Pirie’s office contacted CTV News on Thursday morning with an update. Read more here.

Link to original article with video