It started with a headache and a bit of congestion and eventually became some of the worst flu-like symptoms Dr. Paul Foster had ever experienced. He would eventually test positive for COVID-19.
Dr. Foster had been working as the designated COVID-19 physician at the Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach, seeing first-hand the hit COVID-19 was taking on the health care system.
“We rearranged the rehabilitation ward and opened up 10 COVID beds there. We filled those the same day. The next day we opened up another wing of 10 beds and we had a total of 20 COVID beds and we filled those that day,” he said.
“Because of the sheer number of COVID patients, that was the first week we designated a COVID doctor so I was the COVID doctor. The maximum I got up to was 18 positive or suspect patients under me.”
On Monday, four more people were announced dead in Southern Health from COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths in Southern Health to 29.
Monday 72 new cases were announced for the health region and right now there are 942 active cases in the region.
Steinbach alone has 308 active COVID-19 cases at 17 deaths with a population around 15,829.
There are also 50 people hospitalized with 11 people in intensive care.
The province is looking at expanding the capacity of hospital care and looked at the arena in Steinbach.
Nurses had previously sounded the alarm over the capacity of the Steinbach hospital.
The Manitoba Nurses Union says seven nurses tested positive for COVID-19 in Steinbach and some nurses were even having to triage patients in their cars because of a lack of space in the emergency department.
Dr. Foster says the hospital and health region did do a good job with their emergency planning, but that staffing was a challenge.
“A lot of nurses were isolating with flu-like symptoms. One of the other doctors before me got COVID, the physician assistant was out with symptoms,” he said.
“The emergency department was seeing people in the hallway (and) the ambulance bay because even with me being stretched to my limit with 15 up to 18 COVID patients that I was personally looking after, there were still four or five COVID patients in the emergency department at any given time that had to be taken to Winnipeg or ideally admitted to me.”
Chief Nursing Officer for Shared Health Lanette Siragusa says they have been eyeing place like the Steinbach arena to expand hospital capacity for the province.
“People are dying, our health care system is straining and our economy is struggling because of COVID. Solving these problems aren’t difficult — we need to stay home and we need to stay safe,” she said at Monday’s COVID-19 press conference update.
“What is happening right now in these sites and hospital sites is really a wake up call to all Manitobans. The entire system is soon going to be under distress with these high daily case counts. This can’t continue, the system isn’t built for that. This is becoming more and more distressing every day.”
Dr. Foster doesn’t know the moment he contracted COVID-19 but he believes it was from the hospital.
“It certainly came from somewhere at work, but there were no obvious breaches of protective equipment. I would go out and eat lunch in my car because I didn’t want to be in the break room without a mask and stuff like that. That’s a bit odd,” he said.
On Saturday, people gathered in Steinbach to hold an anti-mask rally, an event that drew hundreds of people.
Dr. Foster says he hopes people will do their part to ease the strain on the health care system.
“I found it surprising, to say the least. I mean there have been many deaths in the emergency department. There have been many deaths in the Bethesda hospital — people who might otherwise have gone to Winnipeg if the whole province wasn’t under such a crunch, so I think to go against the measures that are going to relieve some of the stress on the system is very irresponsible. I don’t know why you would do that,” he said.
Foster is recovering at home and hopes to be back in the hospital soon, ready to help more COVID-positive patients in Steinbach.View link »