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Privatized health clinics see increase in patients fed up with wait times in public system

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For months, Monica Giordano waited by the phone in pain, hoping to be scheduled for a hip-replacement surgery that never came.

"You can't sleep at night, you turn around, you can't, you walk, you can't, so you're sitting there and waiting for someone to call you and say, 'OK, tomorrow is your day,' but it wasn't that way," she told CTV News.

Eventually, the 74-year-old Granby, Que., resident decided to take matters into her own hands by dipping into her life savings to pay out-of-pocket for her much-needed surgery.

Giordano was told she would need to wait one to three months for surgery. Instead, she said she waited two years before deciding to go private.

"I said, ‘No, I'm going to take that money we saved all these years.’ It's not worth living if you can't have the freedom to walk and to enjoy life," she said.

Amid staffing shortages and hospitals still dealing with post-pandemic repercussions, Canada's oversaturated health-care system is proving to be too much to bear for patients like Giordano who are increasingly turning to private clinics like Clinic Duval in Laval, Que.

The clinic's top orthopedic surgeries performed every year are hip and knee replacement surgery, which can cost a patient roughly $24,000.

According to the Canadian Orthopedic Association, as of this year, more than 160,000 patients in Canada are waiting for orthopedic surgery. The wait time between an appointment with a specialist and orthopedic treatment is 32.4 weeks, making it the second-highest speciality wait time for surgery in Canada.

In Quebec, 641 of its practitioners, or nearly three per cent, have left the public system — a staggering increase in recent years in comparison to other provinces.

Dr. Pascal-Andre Venditolli, orthopedic surgeon at Clinic Duval, said he’s able to help out more patients through his private clinic since there are no restrictions on the amount of hours surgeons in the private sector, contrary to the public sector.

"Here at the clinic, I can do two times, three times, four times the volume as a surgeon because I have no real limits, so as a surgeon I'm much better used in this clinic than in the public hospital," he told CTV News.

More and more Canadians are also turning to private clinics for a family physician.

Lucy Spitale, clinic co-ordinator at SanoMed Solutions in Pointe-Claire, Que., says enrolment has tripled in the past year. Spitale says they have seen a big influx of people who have lost their family doctor, and have a pre-existing condition that needs to be assessed quickly.

"No, this isn't just for the rich. It has become that it is for everybody now," she said.

"Having access to a family doctor is quite difficult, so it has become something for everybody and a priority that people make. Private care means more quality, so time spent with the doctor that you don't get maybe anywhere else."

FOR-PROFIT HEALTH CARE IS NOT SUSTAINABLE LONG-TERM: ADVOCATES

As private clinics see an increase in patients who have the financial means to skip the wait times, health advocacy groups say patients who are unable to afford care will be left behind as more practitioners move toward the private sector.

Dr. Bernard Ho, emergency physician and executive vice-chair at Canadian Doctors for Medicare, said he's concerned that the growing interest in private clinics will distract the provincial governments’ focus on fixing current issues within the public system.

"They (private clinics) siphon resources from the public system into the private system, so we lose doctors and nurses from the public system, which will actually exacerbate wait times and exacerbate access to care," he told CTV News.

Ho said there needs to be a re-investment into the public health system to not only tackle issues like surgery backlogs and staffing shortages, but also cover more prescription medication, dental care and mental health services.

Additionally, incentivizing nurses to work in emergency departments is crucial to alleviating stress on hospitals, as Ho explains bringing in new nurses from other provinces or countries can only do so much if they don't stay to work in the public system for long.

"One experienced nurse is worth two, three new nurses in terms of just being able to treat patients with their expertise. We really need to work on retaining our nurses within our health-care system and part of that is remunerating more equally," he said.

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