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Standalone orthopedic centre for Edmonton's Royal Alex

EDMONTON – A new $60-million stand-alone orthopedic surgery centre at the Royal Alexandra Hospital is expected to play a major role in Capital Health’s plan to dramatically reduce wait times for hip and knee replacements and curb cancellations of the operations.

“It will be the first of its kind in Canada,” Joanna Pawlyshyn (pictured), vice-president and chief operating officer at the hospital, told the Edmonton Journal. “It should allow us, in the end, to provide the best access to joint surgery in Canada right here.”

Construction on the new 80,000-square-foot facility, with two operating rooms and 150 staff, is scheduled to start this spring; it is to be completed in early 2009. The goal is to have hip and knee patients up on their feet and back home four days after surgery.

The rooms are significantly larger than older ones, providing enough space for physiotherapists to work directly at a person’s bedside instead of having patients wheeled to a rehabilitation space.

Capital Health is already rolling out a new system that aims to have 90 percent of joint-replacement operations done within 20 weeks of the initial consultation, down from a previous 82 weeks.

About 50 percent of the 3,000 annual joint operations in the region are done that quickly now.

The 90 percent target should be reached within a year, even before the new building is complete, since operating rooms and beds at the Royal Alexandra, Misericordia and University of Alberta hospitals have been devoted to the program. The new facility will help surgeons maintain that target and see the number of joint surgeries increased to 3,600 a year.

“It will allow us to become super-efficient, to improve the length of stay so we can move patients through more quickly and have them receive better care and be able to move into active lives more quickly,” Pawlyshyn said.” It will provide certainty to the public when they have their procedure booked that it’s not going to be bumped because we’ve got emergencies.”

Currently, about five to six joint surgeries have to be cancelled each month because of pressures in the hospital, said Dr. Don Dick, the medical lead of bone and joint health in Edmonton. Every hospital needs more space and more beds to keep up with the growing population.

The orthopedic surgery centre is part of a number of ongoing projects at the Royal Alexandra hospital that includes 14 new laboratories in the newly constructed Lois Hole Hospital, which will focus on women’s and children’s health issues, as well as a new $3.5-million in vitro fertilization clinic, scheduled to open this spring.

The new orthopedic surgery centre will move at least some of the hip and knee operations out of the main hospitals, freeing up room there to complete other services, Dr. Dick said.

In the next year, the administration will have to decide if all joint-replacement surgeries will be done out of the new facility or if some will remain at other hospitals.

In the last year, Capital Health saw a 10-per-cent jump in the number of people needing joint replacements and expects that rate of increase to continue for the next few years, especially with the aging population. Other orthopedic day surgeries, such as ligament reconstruction and arthroscopy of the knee, will also be performed in the new building to maximize its use. The full load of knee and hip replacements will be phased in over time.