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Northern Health adds orthopedics to Terrace surgical services

One of the benefits of the new hospital will be a regional Level III Trauma Centre
This is one of four operating rooms at the new Mills Memorial Hospital. The current hospital has three operating rooms. Work is proceeding with a goal of occupancy of the new hospital in November of this year. (Staff photo)

Terrace is set to play a significant role in providing a regional orthopedic service when the new Mills Memorial Hospital opens later this year.

Northern Health has already hired one orthopedic surgeon and wants to hire three more so that orthopedic surgical services operate in concert with an expanded level of trauma care.

The new hire will work in Kitimat until the hospital opens in Terrace.

At the moment, orthopedic surgeries are offered in Kitimat and Prince Rupert by resident surgeons and in Smithers by three Prince George surgeons who rotate in and out.

Prince Rupert is set for an orthopedics expansion of its own when a second orthopedic surgeon begins working there next month.

Northern Health official Sarah Artis described the addition of orthopedics to Terrace as an overall regional expansion.

“Orthopedic surgery and expanded specialty services such as urology, ear-nose-throat and plastic surgery will be offered at surgical sites across the northwest,” she said.

“All operating rooms in hospitals across the northwest, including Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Smithers and Hazelton will be required, and play a role, in meeting northwest surgical demands, and orthopedic surgeons will continue to provide surgery services in these communities until they choose to retire.”

Artis also placed orthopedic surgical services within the scaling up of the new Mills to a Level III trauma service.

“For the new Mills Memorial Hospital to be a Level III trauma centre … the facility is required to be able to provide various surgical subspecialties on an as-needed basis – including orthopedics,” she said.

“That way, a patient who comes … suffering from an orthopedic trauma, for example a broken leg from a car accident, can be stabilized and cared for in Terrace, instead of needing to be transferred elsewhere.”

With orthopedics closely allied to trauma care, Artis said there may be times when patients up for elective surgery will be sent to other northwest hospitals.

There’s even a plan to offer small orthopedic procedures before the new hospital opens by acquiring equipment for the current hospital, said Artis.

Those procedures include applying plates to fractures or using stiff wires, commonly called pins, to repair fractures.

At the moment, the only other hospital in northern B.C. offering a Level III trauma service is the University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George.

Based on information provided by the Northern Health Authority, here are a few of the key services typically provided as part of a Level III trauma centre:

- General surgery 24/7 coverage within 20 minutes

- In-house advanced airway intervention to either prevent airway obstructions or to relieve it at all times (an emergency room physician must remain in-house 24/7)

- Orthopedic surgery 24/7 within 30 minutes

- Anesthesia 24/7 coverage within 20 minutes

- Radiology available on call 24/7 with a 30-minute response time

- Intensive care unit with closed ICU model

- Internal medicine coverage 24/7

- Dedicated chief emergency department physician

The call for a Level III trauma service in Terrace dates back to at least 2008.

About the Author: Rod Link

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