Critically ill adults were forced to move to the Children’s Hospital for care as fear grows that Manitoba is days away from sending its sickest patients outside of the province.
At least two adults were in the pediatric intensive care unit at Health Sciences Centre Wednesday — bringing the total number of ICU patients in Manitoba to 104 — as COVID-19 continues to strain the health-care system.
Despite the overflowing intensive care units, the Manitoba government has not yet asked neighbouring provinces to accept patient transfers, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Wednesday after a news conference in Winnipeg.
Gordon said the province has been able to ramp up its critical-care capacity in response to increased COVID-19 demand.
"We have been able to carry out patient flow that ensures that all individuals are receiving the care they’re entitled to receive," Gordon said when asked why her office hasn’t sought help from other provinces. "We have not seen a need as of yet to have those discussions."
However, critical-care physician Dr. Eric Jacobsohn estimated Manitoba is just days away from transferring patients out of province.
Jacobsohn predicted the arrival of the omicron variant will intensify the strain on the health-care system and devastate unvaccinated residents. Six cases of the variant have been confirmed in Manitoba so far.
"It spells a dire crisis that we’re heading into," he said. "We are already at crisis capacity."
Gordon couldn’t say Wednesday when Ottawa would send critical care nurses to the province. Manitoba asked Ottawa on the weekend for 15-30 nurses.
"We are continuing to have discussions with our federal counterparts that will evolve over the next few days and we will be able to say more once those discussions have concluded," Gordon said.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair didn’t have any additional details on the matter Wednesday.
Jacobsohn said he hopes the province will draft a plan to send patients to other jurisdictions. Even with Ottawa’s help, critical-care staff won’t be able to manage demand, he added.
He described the province’s request for more nurses a "modest ask at best."
During the third pandemic wave in the spring, 50 patients were transferred out of province for care.
A spokesman for Shared Health said two beds were added to the pediatric intensive care unit earlier this week and will be used on an "as-needed" basis.
"This is just one of a number of steps being taken to increase ICU capacity across the province," the spokesman said in a statement to the Free Press. "Adult patients continue to receive highly specialized care in this physical environment. Contingency planning is also in place to ensure capacity remains for any pediatric patients who require this high level of care."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called on the government to bring in the military to provide temporary relief for the critical-care program, echoing calls made by a group of front-line physicians in a letter to the province on the weekend.
"The human resources that the military has access to could help bolster the situation in the ICUs and really help to just sustain our ability to care for the sickest Manitobans here in the province," Kinew told reporters at the legislature.
The PC government should also ask other provinces to send human resources to Manitoba to deliver required care in the province.
"At this stage it’s an all-of-the-above approach," Kinew said.
— with files from Katie May and Dylan Robertson
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.