Service cuts led to unnecessary amputations: doctor
Published Friday, May 27, 2011 4:34PM PDT
Critics are blasting the provincial government for healthcare service cuts they claim have led to severe pain for patients and, in some cases, amputations.
In a cluster of modifications to healthcare services in March 2010, the government cut funding for orthotics and orthopedic shoes – which are now only subsidized if the patient is at risk of amputation.
Podiatrist Dr. Tammy Gracen says she's been dealing with fallout ever since.
"I'm on the front end. I have to look at these people and say, ‘I can't help you. You're in pain? Sorry, too bad. Can't walk? Too bad,'" she told CTV News on Friday.
Gracen argues that by the time a patient is at risk of amputation, it may already be too late. She's already seen one patient lose a toe and another have her leg amputated from below the knee.
The latter patient – a woman who has diabetes, neuropathy, an ulcer on top of her foot and circulatory problems – was deemed not at risk for amputation and therefore not covered for orthopedic shoes that she could not afford.
Gracen said she would come for appointments in socks, sobbing, because "she was so very swollen she couldn't get a shoe on."
Her eventual amputation could have been avoided with preventative treatment, Gracen says.
She's tried to contact the government to discuss issues with the cuts, but says no one will talk to her. "The government never consulted with us on the change, they presented it as a done deal," she said.
The cuts have left Gracen stuck. She's even resorted to buying the shoes for people in certain dire cases. "Sometimes I do it out of pocket myself because I can't stand it," she said.
And she's not the only one who's worried.
‘She'll need them forever'
Melissa Matthews has two club feet; she needs orthodics in her shoes because she can't walk without them.
"Melissa required orthotics from the time she took her first steps," her mother Colleen said. "She'll need them forever, until the day she dies."
Her daughter may not be at risk of amputation, but a lack of orthotics could cause a host of other health problems.
"It gives her that support she needs to prevent from rolling over," she said. "The risk of snapping an ankle is quite high."
She said she's appealed the government's decision over and over again.
"It makes me very angry, very angry, and sad," she said. "I'm not fighting just for Melissa, I'm fighting for everybody they're picking on."
Service cuts 'idiotic': Health critic
Vancouver-Mt. Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan agrees that the problem needs fixing.
"We now know a year later that this is not a smart move and the implications are huge," she told CTV News.
She's particularly concerned about children who need new orthopedic shoes because they've outgrown theirs.
"How would you like it to know you can prevent your child's pain but you cannot afford to do so?"
Opposition health critic Mike Farnworth agrees. He says funding items like orthotics and orthopedic shoes could prevent costly surgeries such as amputations, which he estimates at $10,000 a piece. The shoes cost approximately $250 a pair.
"That small amount of money improves somebody's live – a kid's life, an adult's life – and it saves an awful lot of money on our healthcare system down the road," he told CTV News.
"This to me is a classic case of misplaced priorities – an idiotic cut to save a few dollars."