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Regina man’s brain tumour surgery delayed as ICU beds fill up

With ICU usage in Regina and across Saskatchewan at a record high due to COVID-19, a Regina man has been told he’ll have to wait to receive potentially life-saving surgery to remove a brain tumour.

Now, the patient’s family says they want to raise awareness of the dire situation in Saskatchewan ICUs while asking action could have been taken to avoid this scenario.

“Yesterday the secretary was trying to book him in and they told my mom there wasn’t any ICU bed availability so the surgery would not be happening this month and that it would likely would be taking place within the first week of May,” said Ashleigh Woytiuk, whose father Richard Baron was diagnosed with lung cancer and a brain tumour on April 9.

Woytiuk said she then contacted a quality of care coordinator who said her father fad tentatively been booked for May 3. She says that while she’s grateful to hear that something might be scheduled, the tentative nature of the booking, as well as the urgency of Baron’s need for treatment.

“My dad can’t start any type of treatment until that tumor is removed from his brain. It’s something that is a life-threatening illness,” Woytiuk said.

“There’s pressure on ICUs. I’m aware of that but that doesn’t change the condition that my dad is in. I’m not expecting them to just magically bump him and take somebody else’s spot, But I do want to know that there is going to be availability for him, even for the third.”

Read more:
COVID-19 patient record broken in Saskatchewan ICUs

According to the government of Saskatchewan’s April 23 COVID-19 update, there are 35 people affected by COVID-19 alone in ICU in Regina.

To put that in perspective, in normal times Regina hospitals house just 27 ICU beds total.

According to SHA documents, there were 38 ICU surge beds open in the province as of April 21.

On Thursday, Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone was asked specifically about Baron’s case.

Livingstone said the situation in ICUs is part of the new reality caused by the pandemic.

“We’re already in that situation. Where we’re making those decisions on a day-to-day basis, and triaging the most high-priority patients that we can,” Livingstone said, adding that directing people around to hospitals with lower COVID-19 patient loads could be an option for some seeking urgent treatment.

“Surgeons are making decisions on a daily basis on what patients they can take to the OR. Typically in those types of cases, whether open-heart or other serious types of surgeries, those patients end up in ICU after their surgery. We’re not able to maintain our usual daily types of surgery in that space because we just don’t have the ICU beds on a daily basis to accommodate that.”

He said, though, that health care in Saskatchewan has not yet reached a point where patients need to be triaged province-wide.

“If we were in one of those situations where we’ve exhausted our ability to expand ICU, we move it to that area that I would describe more as a ‘MASH unit’ where patients are being triaged and decisions are being made by clinicians using that framework to appropriately care for the people who are more likely to benefit.”

Read more:
COVID-19: Saskatchewan renews call for adherence due to ICU patients, variants

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman was also asked for comment on Baron’s situation Friday.

“My office does not get into the decision-making process but I understand that there’s some challenges out there,” Merriman said.

“I understand that there are pressures in Regina and that those pressures are real. There are still surgeries going on across the province. There are surgeries that are going to be reschedules. We’re trying to minimize those that need to be reschedules and prioritize those that need to be done immediately. We are trying to find that specific balance.”

A slide from the weekly SHA town hall for physicians paints a picture of current ICU usage in Saskatchewan as well as projected implications for a further rise in patients.

A slide from the weekly SHA town hall for physicians paints a picture of current ICU usage in Saskatchewan as well as projected implications for a further rise in patients.

Saskatchewan Health Authority

But Woytiuk says she hasn’t heard what she wants to hear from any health official: that a date for her father’s surgery can be guaranteed.

She says that the only treatments her dad has access to at the moment are anti-seizure medication and steroids.

“Just saying that we’re trying to find the balance or that we’re doing our best, isn’t good enough for our families when we’re waiting to receive care,” she said.

“They said to me, ‘He’s deemed as urgent so he’s in for the third’. That shows me that the doctor does believe his situation is urgent. So if the doctor is deeming something is urgent, obviously it is urgent. That’s what these people who are responsible for and managing ICU bed capacity need to realize.

“COVID-19 is not the only life-threatening illness that people are dealing with right now.”

Click to play video: COVID-19 vaccine appointments fully booked in Regina, Saskatoon

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