Winnipeg hospital stopped admitting patients after ‘critical and unsafe levels’ reached

Ambulances waiting at St. Boniface Hospital. File / Global News

Patients who need to be admitted at one of Winnipeg’s principal hospitals were being redirected to other emergency departments by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Global News has obtained a memo sent to staff at St. Boniface hospital on June 12 that stated the department had reached a “critical and unsafe level.”

“The number of admitted and active patients in the St. Boniface Emergency Department has reached critical and unsafe levels,” part of the memo said.

It was sent to St. Boniface staff in multiple departments including cardiology. St. Boniface is the leading ‘heart’ hospital in the city.

“This should occur for the next 24 hrs unless care cannot be provided at another site, or where deferral or immediate transfer from the referring facility threatens patient care owing to a time sensitive condition,” the memo states.

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A memo obtained by Global News about the 24 hour redirection at St. Boniface hospital.
A memo obtained by Global News about the 24 hour redirection at St. Boniface hospital.

“Basically what we were saying to staff, internally, was not to have our patients coming to the emergency department for follow ups. That’s what we were saying,” Martine Bouchard, president and chief executive officer, St. Boniface General Hospital said.

Health officials blame a surge in patients.

“You can’t control when everybody shows up at what time so there are certain times of the day when things get busier,” Réal Cloutier, president and chief executive officer, WRHA said.

Cloutier said overall across the region the numbers were pretty average, even adding that the overall numbers at St. Boniface Hospital were “in the normal range.”

While the official memo said “critical and unsafe levels” of patients had been reached at the hospital, officials said public safety was not at risk.

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“The message is the system is safe,” Cloutier said. “We manage it so that it does keep safe for people.”

St. Boniface started accepting patients again Thursday afternoon.

“Patient volumes are unpredictable and surges are a common occurrence in health care,” Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in an email statement to Global News.  “Internal redirection requests occurred long before system change began and will occur again in the future.”

However, even the WRHA admitted full-day redirection is not common.

“This has happened maybe one other time at this site,” Chief Health Operations Officer Krista Williams said. “We’re going through big system change.”

That one other time, was on Monday June 3, the same day the province closed Concordia Hospital’s emergency department and turned it in to an Urgent Care centre.

“I am concerned. We are both concerned,” Bouchard said. “But we are addressing the situation from an internal prospective.”

The WRHA said the ER closure at Concordia and the redirection at St. Boniface are in now way connected.

“The conversion has gone extremely well,” Cloutier said. “This issue is not related to the conversion at Concordia. This has to do with managing the flow within the ED.”

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Opposition Leader Wab Kinew disagreed.

“One of the most important ER rooms in our province has begun turning away patients and it happened after they closed the ER at concoridia,” Kinew said.

Cloutier said the number of patients affected was “minuscule” but could not provide any exact figures.

But health officials said the wording of the “internal” memo was poorly chosen and that patients were safe.

It is also looking at adding beds on a temporary basis.

“We’re adding additional beds. They’re temporary beds but we’re going to add those beds to the acute care sites to support us not only for the next month but we’re looking at adding those additional beds for a period of possibly up to a year just as we’re going through transition to help manage these surges.”

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