More patient transfers, surgery delays may be needed to create space for Manitoba COVID-19 patients: official

WINNIPEG –

More surgeries may be postponed as Manitoba looks to increase capacity in its intensive care units to accept more COVID-19 patients, a provincial health official said Wednesday.

“This will help to make room in order to accept more COVID cases,” said Monika Warren, Shared Health’s executive director of health and acute inpatient services and the provincial COVID-19 operations chief.

“We have been headed in absolutely the wrong direction over the past couple weeks with rising case counts which have resulted in seeing higher numbers in hospital and in ICU.”

Health officials said while people who are fully vaccinated can still contract the virus, they’re not experiencing the same severe outcomes as those who haven’t been immunized.

In addition to delaying surgeries, more hospital patients who don’t require a high level of care could be moved to different health regions to receive lower acuity care.

“These are significant impacts and they are difficult operational decisions,” Warren said. “But I do want to emphasize that these patients continue to receive excellent care, although we do recognize the toll it has on them and their family.”

There were a total of 153 people in hospital in Manitoba as of Wednesday receiving care for COVID-19.

According to the latest counts available, 98 patients were in intensive care units across the province, 26 above the pre-COVID baseline of 72 beds.

Thirty-four of those ICU patients were being treated for COVID-19. Of those patients, 26 have active cases, 25 of which are unvaccinated.

“The recurring theme in all of this is the sheer volume of unvaccinated patients that are driving these numbers and putting the health services of our province at risk,” said Warren.

Nigel Sigurdson, 76, had been receiving care in the Arborg hospital while awaiting a bed in the community’s personal care home after suffering a severe stroke.

Two weeks ago, his wife, Signy Sigurdson, said he was moved about 200 kilometres away from his family to a hospital in Morris, Man. as health officials in the province work to keep acute and specialized care beds free.

“They were just freeing beds for COVID patients that might be coming in,” said Signy Sigurdson. “All of a sudden you can just be moved. You have no say.”

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief public health officer, said there are no pending changes to public health orders to aid this.

While people who are fully vaccinated have returned to many of their normal activities, restrictions remain in place for the unvaccinated on attending certain activities, businesses and events, worship services and gatherings in private homes—the latter of which officials acknowledge can be difficult to enforce.

“It is concerning in relation to risk with unvaccinated individuals or people pushing the orders or maximizing what they can do under the orders and even outright not obeying the orders,” Atwal said. “That provides that risk and I think we’re seeing that on the acute care side, we’re seeing lots of unvaccinated people being admitted to hospital.”

Warren said plans to create more space in already overburdened ICUs will also be difficult from a staffing perspective which will involve redeploying and training nurses to work in the specialized units.

She said while there are currently more ICU nurses on staff compared to this time last year, the system has lost 46 experienced ICU staff members over the same period. These workers have either retired or moved to different units amid a prolonged, stressful and tiring response to the pandemic.

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses’ Union, called the staffing issues a crisis.

“While it may appear that we have more ICU nurses and a reduction of slated surgeries, we are not accounting for the daily absences such as illness, vacation or leave,” Jackson said in an emailed statement. “Further, we need to break out the number of nurses that are there voluntarily but not indefinitely, who have been redeployed and are waiting to return home to their unit.”

Nigel Sigurdson’s family said his transfer to Morris has been crushing on his wife who provides 24-hour care to the couple’s son and now has to drive two hours to visit with her husband who is non-verbal.

“The priority is being given to the people who chose not be vaccinated and to me that’s really unfair,” said Maureen Sigurdson, Signy and Nigel’s niece. “The older people who are double vaxxed are being moved out of their home community and in Nigel’s case he’s not able to communicate.”

Sigurdson’s family isn’t sure how much longer Nigel will have to stay in Morris. They said theu don’t fell it is fair that he was moved without the family’s personal circumstances being taken into consideration.  

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