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More Manitobans to regain vision, mobility thanks to surgical funding announcement

Posted Thursday, November 22, 2018

Cynthia Veli spent more than a decade living in the dark, even in broad daylight.

But now, thanks to a recent operation to remove cataracts, the 52-year-old woman has her vision back - along with her independence and happiness.

As it turns out, stories like Veli's are about to become much more common in Manitoba.

Today, the province announced it is spending an additional $5.3 million to reduce wait times for hip, knee and cataract surgeries. It is expected that the investment will result in an estimated 2,000 additional cataract surgeries next year, a 16 per cent increase. There will also be 1,000 more hip and knee replacement surgeries performed in 2019, a number which represents a nearly 25 per cent increase. 

At the moment, more than 4,100 hip and knee replacements and 12,900 cataract surgeries were performed in Manitoba in 2017 to 2018. Out of those, more than 3,000 hip and knee replacement surgeries took place last year at Winnipeg Regional Health Authority sites, along with more than 10,000 cataract surgeries.

Veli attended today's press conference announcing the new funds.

She said she first started to develop cataracts in her late 40s. Her condition had deteriorated to the point it always seemed like dusk to her. She couldn't see the face of her husband or loved ones from even two feet away, and was at risk of losing her driver's license.

Her cataract procedure - performed at the Eye Care Centre of Excellence at the Misericordia Health Centre - only took about 20 minutes. But once the surgery was over, everything changed. She could see colours, signs and details that had been lost to her for years, and realized she could be out in the evening without an escort and even drive herself. Most importantly, she is now able to look into the eyes of her husband and see him looking back at her.

Krista Williams, Chief Health Operations Officer of the WRHA, said outcomes like Veli's drive health-care providers to deliver the best care possible, and do everything to ensure patients get access to this care sooner.

"I think that's the reason you and I choose to work in health care. It is, and always will be, about people - our patients," she said. "We help people change their lives and the lives of their families for the better. Whether it's regaining independence, being free from pain, resuming work or enjoying activities, we are a part of people's journey to lead full, healthy and productive lives."

There has been an increase in the demand for these procedures as Manitoba's population ages, with the majority of those procedures taking place within WRHA hospitals, said Williams.

"Taking the initiative to reduce wait times for these types of surgeries aligns with the Healing Our Health System plan, which lays out a roadmap for delivering on the WRHA's commitment to provide better care, sooner for our patients," said Williams at today's announcement, adding that the WRHA serves patients from all across the province, meaning this announcement will have a positive impact on the health of all Manitobans.

She praised regional staff for their proven track record for innovation in health-care.

"Our Manitoba clinicians are consistently recognized as some of the best and brightest anywhere," she said. "I would like to recognize the efforts of our staff and physicians who work on the clinical units for hip, knee and cataract surgeries within the WRHA."

Increasing the number of hip and knee replacement surgeries and cataract surgeries was previously recommended by the Wait Times Reduction Task Force as a means to reduce wait times for care.

"The reality is that we are seeing an increased and sustained demand for these procedures as our population ages," said Dr. Jack McPherson, co-chair of the priority procedure wait times reduction committee of the Wait Times Reduction Task Force. "We are very pleased the government of Manitoba adopted our recommendation, and believe it will significantly augment the progress we have made to date in completing more procedures and ultimately reducing the amount of time patients currently wait."

Innovative changes implemented since 2016 are also enhancing Manitobans' access to care. Those innovations include offering cataract surgeries using freezing rather than sedation to patients who meet the clinical criteria, offering same-day hip surgery to reduce long hospital stays, and implementing a hip and knee clinic to reduce the number of people referred for surgery.

"Manitoba patients deserve better health care sooner and that includes reducing the time they wait for priority procedures," said Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen. "As we streamline services, co-ordinate better service delivery and adopt innovative ideas that improve patient care, we can invest in additional hip, knee and cataract surgeries for Manitobans."

Additional cataract surgeries will take place at Misericordia Health Centre while additional hip and knee surgeries will be performed at Concordia Hospital, Grace Hospital, Health Science Centre Winnipeg and the Boundary Trails Health Centre in southern Manitoba.