For Tom Romano a simple slip in the bathtub started an eight-month-long nightmare.
The 41-year-old warehouse worker tore his right rotator cuff the group of shoulder muscles that move and control the right arm severely limiting his ability to lift, carry and grip objects.
“Being a guy, I thought I just tweaked it. I kept working until Feb. 9,” Romano said.
An orthopaedic specialist diagnosed Romano’s injury and believes corrective surgery is needed to repair the damaged muscles. However, before Romano can get the surgery he needs an MRI.
“My MRI appointment is for Feb. 7, 2011 two days short of a year from when I went off work,” he said. “How long is it going to take to get my surgery after I get the MRI? I ran into a guy who had to wait three years for shoulder surgery. Why is there such a waiting list?”
Prior to his injury, Romano was the primary breadwinner for his family of five. His wife works full-time, but doesn’t make enough to pay the bills and Romano’s short-term disability and medical EI benefits are running out.
Being on long-term disability will mean even less money for the family, he said.
“I have three kids. My daughter is 17, my son is 14 and on Sept. 9 my youngest son turned eight years old,” an emotional Romano said. “We couldn’t afford to get him any birthday presents. I’m still behind on September’s rent.”
He can’t even afford the $40 per visit to see the physiotherapist for his shoulder, he said.
Romano said he’s taken his truck off the road and is trying to sell it. The financial stress has, “taken a toll on everything,” from his health to his relationship, he said.
“If it was a WCB claim I’d have had my surgery and be back to work already. But I’m honest, I did it at home,” Romano said.
“My job is there, all I have to do is get fixed and I’m back to work. My boss talked to HR and asked if they could help, but they can’t because it was an at-home injury.”
Romano said he doesn’t want to be a drain on the system, he just wants to be able to go back to work and support his family.
“You’d think the government would want me working, because I’m not paying tax on anything I’m making now.”
Romano’s friend, Eli Malbeuf, is hoping to raise money for Romano to get the surgery he needs at a private clinic.
To get the surgery done at one of several private clinics in B.C. would cost $350-400 for a consultation and $4,800-$10,000 for the surgery, Malbeuf said.
“They said nine times out of 10 they don’t need an MRI. But if he does need one, they can get him in in 30 days. They can do the surgery in two weeks,” he said. “If I had the money, I’d do it right now.”
According to data released by the Ministry of Health, there are currently 1,221 patients waiting for orthopaedic surgery (excluding knee and hip replacement) at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. The median wait time for patients during May, June and July was four weeks to 45 weeks depending on the surgeon and type of procedure.
The overall average wait time for all surgeons and types of orthopaedic procedures was 28 weeks approximately six months.
Prince George has the second-highest number of patients waiting for orthopaedic surgery in the province and some of the longest wait lists.
“Something has to be done when people are waiting like this,” Malbeuf said. “I’d like to see him get some help.”
Anyone willing to make a donation, or offer any other type of help, can contact Malbeuf at 250-964-9120.
Northern Health spokesman Steve Raper said the provincial government announced $23 million province-wide in targeted funding to reduce wait times last week. Of that, $3.7 million will be coming to Northern Health to reduce wait lists for MRIs and hip and knee replacement surgeries.
Currently Northern Health performs an average of 3,700 MRI scans per year. The additional funding will increase that by 807 scans per year.
“We think it’ll absolutely make a difference. What that correlates to in terms of wait times, I don’t know,” Raper said. “But will it reduce wait times? Absolutely it will.”
In addition, the number of hip and knee replacements happening in Northern Health’s area will increase from 513 per year to 873 per year. An additional 1,250 colonoscopies will be performed in the region as well.
“It’s not just the funding. It means putting in place the nurses, doctors, surgeons, equipment, etc. It’s a matter of putting together a plan.”
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond said the $23 million is just the first phase of a $250 million, province-wide initiative to reduce wait times.
“This funding will specifically target patients who are waiting for these procedures,” Bond said. Each health region worked with the ministry to decide on what areas to focus funding on, she said.
“This is part of a broader strategy of patient-focused funding.”