Health officials are redeploying nurses to battle a fourth-wave surge in COVID-19 cases threatening to once again overwhelm Manitoba's critical-care resources.

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This article was published 12/11/2021 (197 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Health officials are redeploying nurses to battle a fourth-wave surge in COVID-19 cases threatening to once again overwhelm Manitoba's critical-care resources.

But the number of available reinforcements could fall short of what's needed, and the provincial government is to blame, the president of the nurses' union said Friday.

Nurses with critical-care experience or those who received some training before last spring's disastrous third wave have been told they'll be transferred to help fill gaps in intensive-care units as case numbers and hospitalizations are rising at an alarming rate.

"We did not want to be here again and we are both grateful to the staff whose work and personal lives are once again being disrupted," Monika Warren, COVID operations chief for Shared Health, told reporters during a news conference Friday.

"I want to thank you very much for your understanding and for your commitment to our patients and for all Manitobans."

Warren said the nurses, as well as 40 others who will have completed critical-care orientation by Nov. 22, but need additional training, are needed because ICU patient numbers have jumped 25 per cent to 86 patients in the last week. The normal pre-COVID number of ICU patients in Manitoba is 72.

As well, Warren said a total of 145 patients are hospitalized in the province due to COVID.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>COVID operations chief for Shared Health, Monika Warren: "We did not want to be here again and we are both grateful to the staff whose work and personal lives are once again being disrupted." </p>

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Files

COVID operations chief for Shared Health, Monika Warren: "We did not want to be here again and we are both grateful to the staff whose work and personal lives are once again being disrupted."

"This, again, is up 27 patients, or nearly 23 per cent from one week ago," she said. "Twelve of these patients are under the age of 40 and three are under the age of 20.

Warren said the province is cancelling two surgical slates at the Pan Am Clinic, Misericordia Health Centre and Victoria Hospital, as well as endoscopy at Seven Oaks General Hospital starting next Friday to free up more staff.

And some patients are being moved to alternative facilities in the province to make room for an expected influx of patients sick with the virus.

Dozens of patients were sent to other provinces during the third wave that strained the critical-care system to the point of near-collapse.

Warren said the steps announced Friday are an attempt to prevent that from happening again.

"At this point, I think we are doing everything we can to create capacity within Manitoba, and so really looking forward to these numbers coming down so we can continue to manage Manitobans in Manitoba," she said.

But Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said a critical pre-COVID nursing shortage and the provincial government's foot-dragging in collective-bargaining negotiations may well have a negative effect on officials' efforts to free up resources.

"I don't know how much longer we can keep this pace up; this is scary," Jackson said, referring to significant burnout among her members.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Florence Brown with husband Colin Brown</p>

SUPPLIED

Florence Brown with husband Colin Brown

"I don't know why they couldn't have made a decision on surgeries and staff before... this is essentially what happened last time. It's like there's a forest fire going on and this province is stamping out smaller fires and ignoring the forest fire.

"This government hasn't even looked at the nursing shortage."

All five regional health authorities are dealing with nursing shortages, ranging from a vacancy rate of 30 per cent in Southern Health and 18 per cent in Interlake-Eastern, she said.

"This is the worst it has ever been," she said.

Meanwhile, families of some patients identified for transfer are upset with the plan.

Brenda Jonsson's mother, Florence Brown, is one of three patients who will be moved from Lakeshore General Hospital in Ashern to care home beds in Baldur, 300 kilometres away.

"They are moving her from the northernmost health facility in the Interlake-Eastern RHA to the southernmost one in Prairie Mountain," said Jonsson, noting her parents have been married for 60 years and both are elderly.

"The distance these seniors are being forced to move is incomprehensible. How can this be considered in their best interests? We agree that hospital beds are needed, but to give no consideration to these elderly people in their final stages of life and what their needs are is inhumane."

Jonsson said she also has been told the move is not temporary ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­― it is permanent until a care-home bed opens up in their area.

"It's a seven-hour round trip," she said. "It's just so sad. We have just been physically ill over this."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.