The Pallister government is being accused of failing to protect Manitobans, as critically ill patients are transferred to Ontario, ICUs overflow, and COVID-19 case counts hit record levels.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/5/2021 (190 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

The Pallister government is being accused of failing to protect Manitobans, as critically ill patients are transferred to Ontario, ICUs overflow, and COVID-19 case counts hit record levels.

"I think everybody, to a person, is looking at this and going, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe that they let it get this bad,'" Dr. Anand Kumar, a medical professor and critical care physician in Winnipeg, said Thursday.

"It’s not something any of us ever dreamed… that we would see something like this in this country. It’s surreal, to be perfectly honest with you."

With ICUs operating at capacity, hospital staff must decide who goes into intensive care and who does not, Kumar said.

"I think everybody, to a person, is looking at this and going, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe that they let it get this bad,'" Dr. Anand Kumar, a medical professor and critical care physician in Winnipeg, said Thursday.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

"I think everybody, to a person, is looking at this and going, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe that they let it get this bad,'" Dr. Anand Kumar, a medical professor and critical care physician in Winnipeg, said Thursday.

"There are a bunch of people that, in the past, we would have brought to the ICU because they can get better care there and make it less likely that they’ll deteriorate or die. But we can’t offer that to them right now," he said.

"So that’s being triaged as we speak, and anybody who says otherwise is lying to you."

Kumar said hospitals are not triaging patients for life support.

"If we don’t get additional support in the immediate future, and if we become unable to transport people out of town…then triaging in that sense is a consideration," he said.

"But my understanding of the plan, such as little that we’ve been told, is that we would never triage life support... We will ask the nurses and staff to just take care of more patients, using nursing ratios that are nuts."

"It’s not something any of us ever dreamed… that we would see something like this in this country. It’s surreal, to be perfectly honest with you." – Dr. Anand Kumar

Currently, staffing ratios in ICUs are anywhere from two to 2.5 patients per one nurse. The standard is one to one.

News of 603 new COVID-19 cases Thursday is making everyone currently working in ICUs "extremely nervous," Kumar said.

Before Manitoba Health announced the record new case count, and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced new public health orders, Premier Brian Pallister held a news conference.

He told Manitobans their fate is in their own hands.

"I never promised Manitobans we wouldn't go down this path," Pallister said. "I said to Manitobans numerous times, 'The future is in your hands,' and said quite clearly, 'Play defence.'"

When asked how hospitals will manage in the coming weeks, Pallister said he has confidence in health leaders, no matter how grim things get.

"They've assured me they have a plan," he said. "I think we're in the darkest days.

"Clearly, case numbers are very, very high — and unsustainably high. It's important to understand that we are availing ourselves of every tactic and technique we can possibly use, given the limitations of the resources that are always a real factor in every jurisdiction at all times but are especially evident at this point in time."

When asked about the recent need to send ICU patients to Thunder Bay, Ont., for care, the premier said: "Numerous measures" have been taken prior to the pandemic "to strengthen ICU capacity and those measures have been continued to be taken and accelerated."

Ontario open for patients

Ontario will take as many ICU patients as Manitoba needs to send, Ontario Health's incident command interprovincial liaison says.

"You can always count on us," Dr. Sean Moore said Thursday from Kenora.

Ontario will take as many ICU patients as Manitoba needs to send, Ontario Health's incident command interprovincial liaison says.

"You can always count on us," Dr. Sean Moore said Thursday from Kenora.

The neighbouring provinces have a "longstanding relationship, with patients put first," the emergency medicine doctor said. "We've developed a very, very efficient, integrated plan to transfer critically ill patients from Manitoba to Ontario and we'll continue to do that" for as long as it's needed.

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre has accepted three Manitoba ICU patients so far, and could take one or two more, president and chief executive officer Rhonda Crocker Ellacott said.

A network of Northern Ontario hospitals — including Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie — could accommodate a total of 20 Manitoba ICU patients, Crocker Ellacott said.

If the closest hospitals can't take any more Manitoba patients, they'll be transferred beyond Northern Ontario to Toronto and further afield, Moore said. "We have expanding capacity throughout the province."

A few pandemic "hot spots" in Ontario are getting worse, "but the majority are getting much better. It's really fortunate that our capacity is getting better at a time when Manitoba is seeing the highest numbers in Canada. We can take people right now."

— Carol Sanders and Katie May

"We've offered health-care services to northwestern Ontario residents for many, many years now," estimating some 20,000 Ontarians per year travel to Manitoba for hospital services. "This is a reciprocal benefit of that good service."

However, it shouldn't have come to this, says the union representing respiratory therapists caring for Manitoba ICU patients and on medical flights.

"It's decisions and cuts that have been made that have brought us to this point," said Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals.

"Our respiratory therapists have been struggling mightily with capacity issues, overtime, double shifts, lack of any kind of breaks," Moroz said. "I think the transfer of these patients from Manitoba into Thunder Bay, really gives a bit of a peek behind the curtain to the pressures our members have been facing."

When asked about the recent need to send ICU patients to Thunder Bay, Ont., for care, Premier Brian Pallister said: "Numerous measures" have been taken prior to the pandemic "to strengthen ICU capacity and those measures have been continued to be taken and accelerated."

KEVIN KING / POOL

When asked about the recent need to send ICU patients to Thunder Bay, Ont., for care, Premier Brian Pallister said: "Numerous measures" have been taken prior to the pandemic "to strengthen ICU capacity and those measures have been continued to be taken and accelerated."

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew also had no problem singling out political opponents: "The PC government is to blame for why we're here now."

Health and labour experts warned Manitoba's ICU capacity was understaffed and unprepared for a crisis, and now it's arrived, he said Thursday.

The premier saying it's "reciprocal" when Manitoba sends ICU patients to Thunder Bay is a "false equivalence," Kinew told reporters.

"These are two entirely different situations. When northwestern Ontarians come to Manitoba, they do so to access services that are not available in their region," Kinew said. "In this instance, Manitobans are being sent to Ontario because we ran out of the capacity to care for people."

"These are two entirely different situations. When northwestern Ontarians come to Manitoba, they do so to access services that are not available in their region." – NDP Leader Wab Kinew

Earlier, the premier tried to reassure those Manitobans worried an ICU bed won't available if they need it.

"We're doing our absolute best in an unprecedented time to provide the services that we can provide to all people who need them," Pallister said. "We've taken steps throughout this pandemic to prepare.

"We introduced more severe restrictions than other provinces; we introduced better enforcement than other provinces. We have introduced very, very strenuous public health orders... in anticipation of increased need for those orders," the premier said.

Manitoba may ask more provinces and the military for help with overtaxed hospitals, he said. "Nothing is off the table in respect of getting additional help."

— with files from Larry Kusch

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography