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‘This has changed us’: Manitoba healthcare workers exhausted as third wave battle continues

Click to play video: 'One-on-one with Chief Nursing Officer on ICU situation' One-on-one with Chief Nursing Officer on ICU situation
Health care workers continue to struggle to keep up with the demand on the system. Brittany Greenslade spoke with Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa about how they're coping – Jun 2, 2021

As intensive care admissions continue to climb and more COVID-19 patients enter hospitals in need of care, doctors, nurses and health-care workers are left to shoulder the burden of the third wave.

“It’s really hard on the team. They’re so tired and they’re so committed and professional,” Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa told Global News Wednesday morning.

“This has changed us and has shaped us.”

Read more: Clinic administers wrong second COVID-19 vaccine dose to Thompson, Man. woman

The youngest patient to be admitted to ICU was just 18 years-old, according to Shared Health.

A previous patient spent 153 days, or roughly five months, in intensive care.

On Wednesday morning, there we 12 patients under the age of 20 in Manitoba ICU’s.

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While case numbers in the province are slowly decreasing, hospitals are just now seeing the impact from the 500 and 600 daily case counts two weeks ago.

“When we have these 400 test positive, seven per cent of those will be in hospital in ten days, and 1.4 per cent will be in ICU,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said in early May.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba hospitals in crisis with high infection-rate of third wave' Manitoba hospitals in crisis with high infection-rate of third wave
Manitoba hospitals in crisis with high infection-rate of third wave – May 31, 2021

Those patients are just now starting to be admitted into ICUs and coming in unprecedented surges, said Siragusa.

“The numbers of people admitted to the intensive care unit over the last week especially, have been numbers that we haven’t ever seen before,” Siragusa said.

“We admitted last weekend 30 people into intensive care in a 48-hour period. Yesterday, in the 24-hour period, there was another 11 people admitted.”

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Even with contingency plans and the doubling of critical care capacity in ICUs, it’s become overwhelming, health officials have said over the past week.

Read more: ‘It’s extremely stressful’: Manitobans wait in limbo for more AstraZeneca doses

Dozens of critical care patients have been sent out of province and every day more are being transferred.

“The physicians are looking every day to see who might be eligible to transfer, who is stable in the critical care world and I’m looking for also still more contingency plans,” Siragusa said.

“If there comes a point where Ontario is filled, where do we go next? So we’re always having those conversations.”

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Health officials are left reacting to high case counts they have no control over but are doing their best to prepare for, she added.

“We just have to be prepared to manage it. So as we see (daily case counts) coming down, that’s a very positive sign and we are waiting to see that translate into the hospital admissions,” she said.

“But in the meantime, we’re still planning. There are daily calls happening with Ontario, Saskatchewan in critical care.”

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Click to play video: 'Manitoba ICUs update, May 31' Manitoba ICUs update, May 31
Manitoba ICUs update, May 31 – May 31, 2021

As of Wednesday afternoon, 48 patients had been transferred to ICUs in those two provinces, seven were able to be repatriated back to Manitoba while 40 others are still receiving care in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Shared Health also reported that a man in his 30s who had been receiving treatment in Ontario since May 20 had passed away.

While health officials have previously said conversations had already taken place with counterparts in North Dakota, Siragusa said they may need more help.

“We can talk to other provinces if we have to and also talking to the federal government about bringing in resources, which we have regular calls every day with them as well,” she said.

Read more: COVID-19: Manitobans who received AstraZeneca shot can get Pfizer, Moderna for 2nd dose

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Health-care workers are exhausted, both mentally and physically, from the daily toll of the pandemic while the question of how much longer the system can handle this load lingers.

“It’s a question I ask myself every single day,” Siragusa said. “You don’t really think in the moment how long it’s going to go on and how resilient you have to be for a long period of time.”

It’s a resiliency she said is starting to weigh heavy for some workers who are dealing with an unimaginable amount of grief and trauma.

“Some of them have never seen the impact that we’ve seen from COVID. They’ve never seen that in their whole professional careers,” she said. “So there is some trauma that people have to work through.”

Click to play video: 'Health care workers face an impossible dilemma: burnout or leave' Health care workers face an impossible dilemma: burnout or leave
Health care workers face an impossible dilemma: burnout or leave – Apr 23, 2021

Glimmers of hope

But there have been glimmers of hope, even in the ICU. Siragusa recalled a recent story about a nurse who had just started helping out in the critical care unit with a patient. The COVID patient was young, very sick, intubated and in a coma.

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“(As) she came out of the sedation there was a nurse sitting right in front of this patient and said the first words as she opened her eyes … the nurse saying, ‘You’re going to make it’ and I thought to myself, we all need to hear that,” she said.

“I don’t know who that person is, but we are going to make it through this and we’re not there yet, but we will get there.”

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