Provincial health officials are postponing elective and non-urgent medical procedures at health centres across southern Manitoba in order to free up staff for an anticipated holiday surge in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Ed Buchel, provincial medical specialty lead for surgery with Shared Health, announced the rural phase of the province’s surgical prioritization strategy in a news conference on Monday.
“With the holidays that are approaching and gatherings that are expected to happen, we expect COVID cases to rise substantially,” Buchel said.
“We have to plan to maintain our COVID capacity in our rural areas, specifically at Boundary Trails and at Brandon.”
Starting later this week and continuing through the remainder of December and January, all surgeries at the Carman Memorial Hospital will be postponed to allow Boundary Trails Health Centre in Winkler to increase its capacity for COVID-19 patients.
At the Brandon Regional Health Centre, all elective endoscopies will be postponed to allow staff to support the intensive care unit.
Shared Health announced Sunday it is postponing all non-urgent and elective surgeries at acute care surgical sites in Winnipeg — Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital.
The postponed procedures are expected to affect between 10 and 15 patients per day in Winnipeg, and an estimated 10 to 20 patients per day outside the city, Buchel said.
Anyone whose procedures have been postponed will be informed, Buchel said.
The goal of prioritizing urgent, emergent and cancer surgeries in Winnipeg is to clear as many procedures as possible this week before staffing levels are reduced over the holidays, he said.
Some urgent surgeries will be transferred to Victoria Hospital, Concordia Hospital or the Pan Am Clinic.
Buchel spoke about the emotional toll health-care workers are suffering as they prepare to delay medical procedures for the fourth time since the start of the pandemic.
“It is emotionally a huge drain to walk to your clinic and to have patients say, ‘Why are you not caring for me?'” he said.
WATCH | Surgical delays taking emotional toll, Manitoba doctor says:
He also described the frustration of knowing that the situation in Manitoba hospitals is driven largely by unvaccinated patients needing urgent care.
“We know that it is a choice to be unvaccinated, and we know that that choice results in an disproportionately high chance of being placed in our intensive care units and taking up valuable resources that are now decreasing our ability to continue to give routine surgical care,” he said.
Manitoba has a backlog of surgical and diagnostic procedures, which Doctors Manitoba has estimated to be around 130,000.
“This is directly hurting our patients. Your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, somebody you know. We can’t emphasis this enough. It is beyond frustration.”
A report released by Doctors Manitoba on Monday said six in 10 Manitoba doctors have experienced incidents of abuse in the past month, adding to the stress and burnout.
The redeployment of staff and prioritization of procedures are being done as a precautionary measure, Buchel said.
If the province doesn’t see a significant increase in hospitalizations or ICU admissions, patients who have had their procedures delayed will be prioritized around the end of January or beginning of February, Buchel said.
“We have to do our part to make that a reality,” he said.
“We cannot let Omicron spread rapidly throughout our system, because then it is a guess as to when it will calm down to allow our acute care system to function again.”
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