The risk of hitting critical care capacity at Manitoba hospitals has led to COVID-19 patients in ICU from Manitoba being transferred to Ontario for care.
A spokesperson from Shared Health confirmed two patients, both described as COVID-19 positive and in stable condition, were transferred to Thunder Bay Tuesday, while another patient was transferred on Wednesday.
“These transfers gave us some much needed capacity in the immediate term while planning continues to shore up staffing resources within our ICUs,” the Shared Health spokesperson said in an email.
“Over the past week, Manitoba’s hospitals have been dealing with a significant increase in admissions, to both medicine units and ICUs.
“The compounding effect of multiple days of admissions well over the norm and far beyond what we experienced during wave two has placed extreme strain on our staffing resources.”
The spokesperson said the decision to transfer the patients came after Manitoba ICUs admitted 34 COVID-19 patients in a 96-hour period between May 13 and 17.
“To put into context, that is nearly half of our normal pre-COVID baseline capacity (72) in critical care for our province. This does not include patients who require care in an ICU for non-COVID reasons,” the spokesperson said.
“Yesterday, this combination of continued high admissions, no ICU patients that were sufficiently recovered for a move to a medicine ward, and an increase in the number of very sick patients in our medical wards at risk of needing to be transferred into ICU placed our critical care capacity at significant risk.”
On Monday Siragusa said she expected demand for ICU beds to soon reach a record level as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in the pandemic’s third wave.
At the time there were 120 patients in intensive care beds, nine shy of the peak last December during the second wave of the pandemic.
The number of patients in ICUs climbed to 131 Wednesday, including a record-setting 80 linked to COVID-19, Siragusa told 680 CJOB.
“And we’re we’re not sure if we’ve hit the ceiling yet,” she said.
“We’re still watching these admissions come in every day, we’re still trying to facilitate transfers out, so we have a bit of balance. But the numbers are still high in Manitoba, the active cases.
“So until those start coming down, we are in a constant contingency planning mode.”
Siragusa said both a lack of bed space and staffing contributed to the decision to transfer the patients.
She said the province is in continued negotiations with Ontario over how many patients the province may be able to take in the future, and added Saskatchewan may also be able to take patients if needed.
“We will look at every option that is available to us,” she said.
The province added 402 new active cases Wednesday, bringing the province’s total active caseload to 4,550. In all provincial data shows there are 293 patients in hospital connected to COVID-19, up 15 compared to numbers released Tuesday.
Until the case numbers drop, the province is working to add staff to intensive care from other health-care areas. Some elective surgeries are being cancelled and more nurses are being recruited and trained for intensive care work.
Health officials have also said some COVID-19 patients are being transferred from hospitals to personal care homes in Manitoba, and on Wednesday Shared Health said COVID-19 patients are also being moved to other hospitals within the province to open up space in tertiary and acute care facilities.
“This includes moving patients from Winnipeg to beds outside the city and moving patients between facilities in rural Manitoba to a location that is able to meet their care needs,” the Shared Health spokesperson said Wednesday.
“While every effort will be made to consider preferred location, this will not always be able to be guaranteed during this time.”
The Opposition said the transfers put sick patients at risk and are proof that the Progressive Conservative government failed to prepare.
“This cabinet stood pat, on their hands, as this premier refused to take action to expand ICU capacity through the first wave, the second wave, and now the third wave,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in the legislature.
Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson said the transfers were clinical decisions and were a temporary necessity to open beds. She was unable to say how many more patients might have to be taken to Ontario.
“It depends, frankly, on whether or not we continue to see the numbers we’ve seen in the last few days.”
The province is putting more staff in place to add more intensive care beds, she added.
Health officials have said Manitoba has the capacity to ramp up to 173 intensive care beds. But Siragusa testified in a recent court case that staffing is a limiting factor and the province was hard-pressed to handle the peak during the second wave last December.
–With files from Global’s Brittany Greenslade and Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, visit our coronavirus page.