It may seem like fly-in health care, but cardiologist Dr. Sean Connors says there’s much more to a formal agreement with the University of Ottawa’s Heart Institute than simply tackling a backlog for heart surgery in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I think this is a great example of Canadians partnering with Canadians,” Connors said Thursday, May 12. “As a group of 13 cardiologists and four cardiac surgeons in a province with a tremendous amount of heart disease, how do we expand that? How do we make it bigger? We’re never going to build a heart institute the size of Ottawa, but we want the expertise, in certain cases, of Ottawa.”
Connors, chief of cardiac care with Eastern Health, joined Premier Andrew Furey and Health Minister Dr. John Haggie at the Confederation Building for the memorandum of understanding between the health authority and the heart institute.
Also attending were Dr. Thierry Mesana, president and CEO of the Ottawa Heart Institute, and Dr. Marc Ruel, chair of research in cardiac surgery.
Connors and Mesana say the formal affiliation grew out of “friendship” after Ruel came to St. John’s in September 2020 when the province was struggling to tackle a backlog of surgeries.
There’s been an exchange of both patients and surgeons back and forth ever since, with more complicated procedures taking place in the national capital.
“We have a good understanding of each other and the will to do good for the patients,” Mesana said of the rapport with the Newfoundland team.
Mesana admits the institute has no other formal arrangements with other regions, but says the agreement will be a big boost to cardiac care in general, and will help ensure retention for cardiologists willing to come to Newfoundland.
“We receive patients from many places, for instance, from western Quebec. But this one is very dear to our heart because it’s a formalization, it’s affiliation,” he said. “And this is not just about patient care. This is patient care. This is education for nurses, for doctors. It’s even doing research. It’s jump-start innovation for this place here. It’s not just for providing services.”
Connors agreed the connection with a prestigious institute will be more attractive to possible recruits. The province would normally have four cardiac surgeons, but has been down to three for some time. One of them is leaving, but that position will be filled by a new surgeon coming in July.
“If you’re couched within this big structure that we’ve created with Ottawa, it might make the opportunity to learn the scope, whether it’s your time off or professional education. All that improves,” he said.
Connors said the goal is that no patient who needs surgery will have to wait more than six weeks. Anyone with an immediate need will obviously be accommodated.
“What we’d like to be able to do is to give somebody a date for their surgery. So if you come and we decide that you need surgery, we’ll say OK, on June 17 is your surgery,” he said.
The current backlog of surgeries is about 150, but Connors says that number was about 200 only three months ago.
Mesana said they hope they can help knock that down to about 50 patients within a year.
The agreement with Ottawa will last for five years, although it can be revisited each year.
Connors says he sees it as the next best thing to having a dedicated heart institute in the province.
“We lead the country in heart disease, so the bottom line is, I’d love to see a heart institute here in Newfoundland,” he said.
In the meantime, his message to heart patients is for them to know they’re not being left behind.
“I want to tell people that are out there, we don’t just put you on a list and forget about you. We stay up at night wondering about when we can get your surgery done.”
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram