Yukon man facing ‘unthinkable’ 2-year surgery wait pursues $30,000 private option

Whitehorse General Hospital in February 2022. Arnold Hedstrom has learnt he could be waiting 2 years to get a hip replacement done here. That’s 4 times the national benchmark wait time, and about twice as long as it takes in B.C. (Kiyoshi Maguire/CBC)

Arnold Hedstrom is one of about 200 people on the territory’s hip replacement wait list.

A Whitehorse man plans to fork out $30,000 for private hip-replacement surgery, rather than spend “a significant chunk” of his remaining life on a hospital wait list.

Arnold Hedstrom learned he could be waiting two years to get the surgery done through the Yukon public health system. That’s four times the national benchmark wait time, and about twice as long as it takes in B.C.

Alternatively, he could have a new hip in three or four weeks through private clinics in Canada or the United States.

Hedstrom, a retired CBC producer, said he’s been dealing with the effects of his arthritis for two years, and should have been put on the Yukon wait list sooner.

“Looking back to 2020, I was still active as a youth soccer referee and, in fact, was planning to ref football in the Arctic Winter Games. But over the next couple of years, things really went downhill,” he said.

“My doctor basically said, ‘well, you’ve got arthritis’, as though, you know, you just live with it.”

Hedstrom’s mobility declined to the point he had to quit soccer, and cut back on walking and canoe trips. Simple daily tasks also became difficult.

“It’s something that you put up with every day with just about everything that you do…getting in and out of the bathtub, putting on socks, getting in and out of the car,” he said.

“It’s kind of made my life become much, much smaller in what I can do with friends and family.”

In September, Hedstrom learnt he was one of about 200 people on the waiting list for a hip replacement and surgeons were only funded to do 100 hip surgeries a year. ‘It wasn’t very good news,’ he said. (Submitted by Arnold Hedstrom )

Hedstrom said he returned to his doctor in 2022 and explained he simply couldn’t live with the pain.He was X-rayed again, put on a list for a hip replacement, and referred to the local orthopedic surgeons.

In September he learnt he was one of about 200 people on the waiting list in Yukon, and surgeons were only funded to do 100 hip surgeries a year in the territory.

He was told he may have to wait two years — which he described as “unthinkable.”

“It wasn’t very good news, thinking how much worse things could get in the next two years, given how much worse they’ve gotten over the previous two years,” he said.

“I just felt like two years, for someone who’s 67, is an enormous chunk of what life you have left. You know, I hope I have a long life, but it’s a long time to wait for surgery.”

Hedstrom has been looking at private options in Calgary, Vancouver and the U.S., each costing about $30,000.

“I’m really frustrated with it because $30,000 is a lot of money to lay out and I know that many, many, many people can’t actually afford that,” he said.

“I’m not even sure I can actually afford it, but I can pull together the money through various means. But I feel like a lot of people must feel [held] hostage because they they really don’t have the option. They have to wait.”

System ‘just getting worse’

Hedstrom said he was just on the verge of locking in private surgery, when he learnt about the Yukon Hospital Corporation cutting back operating room appointments next month.

“That just sort of cemented to me the idea that I don’t have faith that the system’s actually going to correct itself anytime soon. It’s just getting worse.” he said.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation told CBC it had to take “urgent steps” to ensure its services, like surgeries, could remain sustainable.

It said the decision to cut back the surgery schedule over the holidays was because of strained resources and “escalating costs.”

The Department of Health and Social Services declined CBC’s requests to interview Dr. Sudit Ranade, the Yukon’s chief medical officer, about staffing shoratages at Whitehorse General Hospital.

A department statement said the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Health department were working closely together to ensure Yukoners receive the services they need.

Last March, doctors at the Yukon Surgical Clinic wrote to patients, saying they were truly sorry for the ballooning wait lists.

They encouraged patients to contact their MLAs about the need for better funding and to tell them how patients are being affected by long wait times.

At that time, Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee agreed that the extended wait times weren’t good enough.

It’s two years since surgeons first started carrying out hip replacement surgery in the Yukon, rather than sending patients elsewhere.

Initially the wait list was about one year, and surgeons hoped to cut it down to six months.

Related stories from around the North :

Canada : Woman who relies on $300K drug fears impact of changes to N.W.T. health benefits, CBC News

Greenland: Greenland to reduce services amidst staffing shortages in health care system, Eye on the Arctic

Finland : Finland’s elder care needs funding boost to meet Nordic standards: researcher, Yle News

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