Patients suffering, dying while waiting for care as Manitoba hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19, doctors say

Patients in Manitoba are suffering and dying while waiting for treatment for illnesses not related to COVID-19 because the health system is overwhelmed, a group of doctors said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Six patients have died while waiting for cardiac surgery, said Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, an intensive care unit physician and cardiac anesthesiologist and one of six Manitoba doctors calling on the provincial government to shut down non-essential businesses and issue a stay-at-home order.

The measures are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ease the burden on hospitals overwhelmed by the number of people critically ill with the coronavirus, the doctors say. 

Even as Manitoba’s ICU capacity has increased 150 per cent, the province has been forced to move patients to hospitals in Ontario to increase capacity. As of Monday, there were 88 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, including 14 patients who were transferred to hospitals in Ontario.

The fact that Manitoba has been forced to move patients out of the province proves that the system has already reached its maximum capacity, and the number COVID-19  patients needing intensive care is only going to increase in the coming weeks, said intensive care physician Dr. Daniel Roberts.

“As numbers mount, we’re going to be asking more jurisdictions to take our patients, even if the curve levels off. We have got to get it down,” he said.

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A group of doctors is calling on the province to take greater steps to protect Manitobans, because hospitals are so overwhelmed with people who have COVID-19 that patients are at risk of inadequate care.

In a press release issued on Monday, six doctors of different specializations said a stay-at-home order and the closing of non-essential businesses are necessary to prevent further loss of life and critical illness. The doctors are addressing the media in a video conference call at 10 a.m. CT today.

They say further restrictions are necessary because the patients they’re caring for in hospitals got sick at work, in malls and schools — places they were allowed to or needed to go. 

“It’s clear that the rules are simply not good enough to get us out of this crisis,” the release says.

Some patients transferred to Ontario

As of Monday, there were 88 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, including 14 patients who were transferred to hospitals in Ontario to increase hospital capacity.

The doctors warn that patients with or without COVID-19 are at risk of inadequate care.

“Anyone who has a serious chronic condition, who may have an early cancer that needs to be diagnosed, or is in need of urgent surgery is now at great risk of not getting the care they need,” the release says.

The doctors say they know there are serious financial and psychological implications of a stricter lockdown but that lives are at risk.

“The short-term financial pain pales in comparison to the long-term financial, psychological and physical damage to Manitobans of a prolonged and ineffective set of restrictions,” the release says.

The release calls for the province to introduce a mandatory paid sick leave as other provinces have done, instead of a voluntary program.

At the beginning of May, the province announced that employers who do not already pay their workers sick leave will get $600 per employee to cover up to five full days of COVID-19-related sick leave.

The sick leave can be taken for COVID-19 testing, vaccination appointments, vaccination side-effects, self-isolation after a positive test or caring for a loved one in any of those circumstances.

The last call to action is for every Manitoban.

The doctors are asking every community member to take whatever actions they can to stay safe, and to stay home, even if the government doesn’t require it.

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