Questions are being raised about the handling of critically ill COVID-19 patients after a Manitoban infected with the virus died during an attempt to transfer them to an ICU in Ontario.
"These patients can go from being stable to incredibly unstable very quickly," Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said Wednesday.
"What I’ve been hearing from nurses is, they can’t believe how quickly a patient can go from, you know, talking and they’re doing OK, until they’re crashing," Jackson said in an interview. "So that’s something very specific to COVID at this time — how quickly those patients’ conditions can change."
Shared Health wouldn’t reveal many details of the incident, other than to say the patient who was identified for transport to a hospital in an unnamed Ontario city, did "destabilize" prior to takeoff earlier this week.
"The patient was provided with care by the critical-care transport team and immediately returned to the sending facility. We can confirm the patient passed away the following day," a spokesman for Shared Health said in an email Wednesday. No information was given about the age, gender or health region of the patient, or what day they died.
CBC News identified the woman as Brandon resident Krystal Mousseau, whose family said she died Monday, a day after she was supposed to be transferred to Ottawa for care.
After question period Wednesday, acting health minister Kelvin Goertzen said he couldn’t comment on the circumstances of a specific situation and that he was seeking more information. "I do know, because it’s been a year into this, that COVID patients do destabilize quickly in a variety of different circumstances — not simply related to flight," he told reporters.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Manitobans deserve answers about the incident, including whether the attempt to transfer the patient resulted in their death.
"Would this Manitoban have passed away if they had not been moved?" Kinew said to reporters after raising the matter in the legislature.
"I think there is a legitimate question to ask as to whether this person would have survived had they been allowed to remain in the intensive care unit bed that they were in."
“The patient was provided with care by the critical–care transport team and immediately returned to the sending facility. We can confirm the patient passed away the following day.” – Spokesman for Shared Health
As of Wednesday, Manitoba had sent 23 critically ill patients from its overwhelmed intensive care units to hospitals in Ontario.
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said his province could take as many as five critical-care patients from Manitoba.
Manitobans should be told if the standards of care being employed for transporting very sick patients out of province are adequate, said Kinew.
"When you move somebody who’s in a medically induced coma, who’s on a ventilator, you are adding risk. You’re adding risk that was not there if they were simply allowed to remain in the same bed in the same hospital," the Opposition leader said.
Shared Health said that patients who are selected for transport to an out-of-province ICU "are carefully assessed by the critical-care team and detailed discussions occur between the sending and receiving care teams." Its spokesman said "rapid deterioration and death of COVID-19 patients requiring critical care is not uncommon and cannot be predicted, whether in the ICU or during transport," but "no patients have died during transport to ICU in another province."
Kinew criticized the government for not being more forthcoming sooner about the incident involving the patient who died.
He accused the premier and the health minister of feigning a lack of knowledge about the incident to avoid answering hard questions in the legislature.
"I find it impossible to believe that people would volunteer this information to the leader of the Opposition and that the government would not be aware," he said.
Goertzen said he didn’t receive information about it until before question period Wednesday, and that he, too, was asking questions about it.
In addition, Goertzen, who is acting health minister while Heather Stefanson is on medical leave, said that transporting patients within the province, and to other provinces, is not a new practice.
"In terms of who gets transported — that, I don’t think, is new within the health-care system," Goertzen said. "Doctors have been using their clinical advice in terms of who is able to withstand, who is able to go through, a transport process. That’s been happening for many years."
“I find it impossible to believe that people would volunteer this information to the leader of the Opposition and that the government would not be aware.” – NDP Leader Wab Kinew
Right now, the province is focused on ICU capacity and extending the longstanding medical relationships it has with its neighbours, including Ontario, Saskatchewan and North Dakota, Goertzen said.
"We have had discussions with North Dakota and Grand Forks that if we need that capacity, I believe there might be capacity available there."
Transporting patients out of Manitoba is nothing new but moving many who are critically ill is a major undertaking that requires a lot of medical staff, said Jackson with the nurses union. She said she was relieved to learn that military medical transport teams have been called to help transfer patients out of Manitoba.
"We just absolutely do not have the resources to be sending four, five or six flights a day out of this province with our own staff here. I’m pretty happy about the fact that they are bringing in additional staff to be transferring."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.