Manitoba’s health-care system is "in danger of collapse" and people are dying as they wait for surgery, says a group of senior physicians and medical school professors who are calling for a total lockdown and implementation of full paid sick leave.
Six people have died waiting for cardiac surgery during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, said ICU anesthesiologist Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, adding there are about 20,000 patients in Manitoba who have had their surgeries deferred.
Manitoba’s critical-care capacity is operating at 150 per cent over normal rates and the province has had to transfer ICU patients to hospitals in Ontario.
"There are people now waiting to have their spines operated on that are losing control of their bowels and bladder and becoming paralyzed — and the province has now started transferring these patients to U.S. institutions for surgery," he said.
"There are patients who need joint replacements who are in severe pain and are, frankly, at home crying every day and getting increasingly dependent on narcotics. The situation is catastrophic."
On Tuesday, 188 people were waiting for heart surgery, and another 160 patients were waiting for heart-valve replacements, more than 60 of whom require the procedures within days.
The redeployment of staff from clinics, diagnostic services, operating rooms and other life-saving services has introduced as many problems as it was supposed to fix.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Charles Bernstein said one of his patients, who has Crohn’s disease, has been waiting for an urgent surgery since January, and won’t get it for several more months. It has compounded the patient’s suffering and made the disease much more difficult to treat.
"There are countless numbers of patients like this," he said.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Pam Orr said many of the sickest COVID-19 patients are contracting the virus while working in non-essential jobs.
"This is despite wearing masks and following protocols as best they can in their personal life and in the workplace environment," she said. "I’m not sure that Manitobans understand that there are patients following all the rules and becoming sick in the workplace."
Jacobsohn said he expects an "epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder" after it becomes apparent how the rise in depression and anxiety during the pandemic has affected sick Manitobans who weren’t able to get the treatment they needed.
"The psychological trauma to the patients who survive this, to the families, is just immense," he said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called the doctors’ descriptions "heartbreaking and disturbing."
He accused the Pallister government of "sheer incompetence," saying it has failed to take the necessary actions to keep Manitobans safe, such as shutting down malls and workplaces where people are getting sick.
"There’s going to have to be an inquest into the unnecessary deaths that took place during this pandemic because of the incompetence of this government," Lamont said.
"We need to put money into the hands of business owners and people who are going to be affected… We need a plan to get us out of this, both economically and to clear the massive backlog of all the Manitobans who are waiting and suffering on (health-care) wait lists."
— With files from Larry Kusch
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.