Growing surgery program a priority for GBGH

Dr. Bonnie Shum (right), surgeon and chief of Surgery at Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH) performs laproscopic surgery in one of the hospital’s two operating rooms. Over the past few years, GBGH has expanded its surgical program by increasing use of its second OR and diversifying the services offered at the hospital to residents within their community.

January 22, 2024 – Recognizing the surgical backlogs created by the pandemic, combined with the need to improve access to surgical care close to home for patients, Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH) has pursued a deliberate strategy to optimize and grow its surgical program over the past two years. Part of the surgical program’s expansion has included diversifying the procedures the hospital is able to offer, as well as increasing the use of the hospital’s second operating room (OR) by offering it to surgeons from other local hospitals.

Based on this approach, GBGH has increased surgical volumes by between 135 and 170 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Day surgeries have also increased between 30 and 60 per cent (depending on the procedure). Overall, the hospital has grown to provide day surgery to 7 out of 10 local residents with an ongoing desire to continue expanding services, enabling more residents to seek surgery at their local hospital.

“People are surprised to learn of some procedures we can do here at GBGH, and we’ve expanded our services to meet the growing need,” says Dr. Vikram Ralhan, chief of staff, GBGH. “Improved access locally and timely care are top priorities for GBGH as we know over 2,000 patients are leaving our area for procedures we can perform at GBGH. The goal is to have those patients receive their care at our hospital. Not only does it cut down on thousands of hours and kilometres in travel, it reduces wait times, which is a priority for the government. By having their procedure at GBGH, it is also creating capacity at other hospitals with the goal of decreasing wait times for their local patients.”

To reduce wait times, GBGH collaborates with physicians and regional hospital partners to offer its available OR time for surgeons to see more patients. This collaboration has also enabled GBGH to entice specialists to provide care to local patients because the hospital can accommodate their need for OR time.

New to GBGH’s list of surgical services in 2023 was endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), which uses a new piece of equipment called the C-Arm to access and repair bile and pancreatic ducts. The C-Arm can also be used in orthopedic and plastic surgeries – both of which now occur regularly in GBGH’s two ORs. Other procedures performed in the surgical and ambulatory care departments include gynecology, urology, ear/nose/throat and cataract surgeries, as well as complex laparoscopic surgeries to treat gastrointestinal conditions.

The hospital recently welcomed a new chief of Surgery in January – Dr. Bonnie Shum – who has practiced general and laparoscopic surgery at GBGH since July 2021. When contemplating whether to join GBGH, the group of dedicated surgeons, the operating room staff, and other support services available (allied health, anesthesia and ambulatory care teams) were all deciding factors.

Since joining GBGH in 2021, Dr. Shum has noticed volumes increasing for both elective and emergency cases, which is attributable to enhanced skill sets among the surgeons, the OR time available to ramp up procedures, and the right equipment to grow specialty services.

“I came to GBGH from a large urban hospital with all the resources you could want in a surgical program,” says Dr. Shum. “When I toured GBGH, I met a compassionate and talented team who could offer so much more than I expected in a rural community hospital. In a rural surgical setting, you must be resourceful and broaden your skill set, but that has been a smooth transition here. With the talented team at GBGH, our surgical program is really well-supported for success.”

As Chief of Surgery, Dr. Shum looks forward to continuing the positive growth initiated by her predecessor in the role – Dr. Paige Churchill. Dr. Churchill remains a surgeon at GBGH and continues in her role as medical quality lead for the hospital. GBGH maintains a core team of five general surgeons with more than 20 specialty surgeons available to perform procedures.

“My goal is to continue identifying specialties which will benefit our community, as well as work on sustaining the incredible progress made to date,” says Dr. Shum. “I’m fortunate to have this opportunity to give back to my community as a physician and a resident. Before moving to the area, I always thought of myself as a city person, but I’m so pleased to have relocated to this community. Not only do we have the incredible Georgian Bay landscape to enjoy, we also have a hospital focused on what’s best for patients, and that means growing services in alignment with community needs.”



Jennifer Moore

Director, Communications & Community Relations

Georgian Bay General Hospital

705-526-1300 ext. 5177