By Richard Smith
Canadians already flock to the Valley of the Sun — and the Northwest Valley in particular — in droves every winter.
Arizona is home to more than 350 Canadian companies and more than 1.1 million Canadians visit our state annually, according to the Canada Arizona Business Council. While many are here on vacation, some Canadians could get work done if an ambitious venture from Surprise and a Canadian healtchcare leader comes to fruition.
“There are so many Canadians that visit and invest in the market,” said Surprise Economic Development Director Jeanine Jerkovic, a former a trade commissioner for the Canadian Consulate in Phoenix.
During the June 20 City Council work session Ms. Jerkovic and Marc Kealey, CEO of Kealey & Associates in Toronto, presented the possibility of a new Canadian medical service center in Surprise aimed at patients who desire Canadian medical standards without the long wait times for services.
Mr. Kealey said a increasing percentage of the Canadian population is age 65 or older, and a decent amount of this aging population already spends a considerable amount of time in the United States — with Arizona a top destination.
Healthcare in Canada is publically (i.e. government) funded but privately delivered. Mr. Kealey said it is not free for consumers, a common misconception, but costs are generally manageable.
However, this model affects how often physicians can work and the availability of some types of medical procedures. For example, Mr. Kealey said, in many parts of Canada, orthopedic surgeons can only work one day a week, since it is too expensive to keep their facilities open four or five days a week.
“There are people that are in Canada who are waiting up to 18 months to get a (new) hip or knee,” Mr. Kealey said.
In the province of Ontario alone, he said, 30,000 residents are waiting for these replacements. Mr. Kealey has spent three decades in healthcare and said the wait times have been an issue at least 25 of those years.
Plus, Canada’s harsh winters wipe out a good chunk of the year for post-operation rehabilitation.
“It is really stupid to do a hip or knee (replacement) in Canada in February,” Mr. Kealey said.
Kealey & Associates is an advocacy and strategy implementation firm in Canada specializing in healthcare and drug reform.
He said a lot of people have tried to operate private clinics in upstate New York, Florida and on the West Coast.
For years, Mr. Kealey searched for a place to do something a bit different. Surprise became the choice, he said, because of its assertive nature and willingness to think outside the box.
In February, Mayor Sharon Wolcott appointed Ms. Jerkovic and Mr. Kealey as co-chairs for a cross-border taskforce to research and identify ways in which Surprise can support expanded healthcare services to Canadians who visit or reside in the area.
Councilman John Williams lived in New York before Surprise and is familiar with the Canadian health system.
“I love the concept. We’re serving the greater good. The wait times have been going on for a long time,” he said.
While the big-picture concept is sound, the rest of this year is likely to be spent seeing if details can be worked out. Roundtables are scheduled for Toronto later this summer and Surprise in the fall.
A decision should come in the winter and, if favorable, the program could start in 2018.
Surgeries are more likely in winter, early spring or late fall, followed by a rehabilitation stint here.
“One of the things we’ve landed on is the notion that there is infrastructure here already. The infrastructure here is complementary to what we want to do,” Mr. Kealey said. “As a concrete example, we know that if you can’t get a hip or knee (replacement) in Canada for 18 months and there is an option to do that here, we’ll market that to patients. We looked at things like once a patient is here, how long would they need to be here. When you look at opportunities for post-op, there’s an existing infrastructure in tele-medicine that could link from Surprise, Arizona to that patient’s physician back home, even before the surgery.”
In particular, he is talking about MD24, the Surprise-based tele-medicince company that grew from Surprise’s incubator. That kind of medical integration is exciting, Mr. Kealey said, and a hallmark of the Canadian system.
Second issue is to formalize the feasibility of providing the service here. Costs, providers and facilities would have to be consistent with those in Canada.
Mr. Kealey said the extra cost to patients — and earnings potential for Surprise — would be travel related.
Employment for local workers would come from the ancillary medical jobs, such as nurses, personal suppork workers and nurse practicioners.
“There are issues with having Canadian physicians credentialed to actually practice here. Obviously we’re looking at Canadian phisicians concentrating on Canadian patients who would be here. We’ve got to make sure the regulatory issue is handled,” Mr. Kealey said. “We’ve done the econo-metrics on this. We know our fee structure in Canada, so we want to have the fee srtucture from Canada actually imposed down here. The analogy would be almost a consular service for health care — walking into a Canadian clinic, as it were. There’s a Canadian flag flying outside, the physicians doing work are to Canadian standards and are Canadian physicians and the fee structure is the Canadian system.”