Manitoba COVID-19 patients transferred to Thunder Bay due to ICU strain

WINNIPEG — Manitoba transferred two COVID-19 patients in intensive care units to Thunder Bay, Ont. due to an increase in new patients arriving in Manitoba hospitals.

Shared Health confirmed the decision was made on Tuesday, saying two patients were moved to Ontario to help ease the strain on ICU staffing.

“Over the past week, Manitoba’s hospitals have been dealing with a significant increase in admissions, to both medicine units and ICUs. The compounding effect of multiple days of admissions well over the norm and far beyond what we experienced during wave two has placed extreme strain on our staffing resources,” a spokesperson for Shared Health said in an emailed statement.

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre confirmed it received two patients from Manitoba, but said it will have no impact on the service to patients in the region.

Shared Health said between May 13 and 17, ICUs in Manitoba admitted 34 patients with COVID-19, which is nearly half of the normal pre-COVID baseline capacity for critical care in Manitoba, which is 72.

The spokesperson said the province’s critical capacity was at significant risk on Tuesday due to a combination of “continued high admissions, no ICU patients that were sufficiently recovered for a move to a medicine ward, and an increase in the number of very sick patients in our medical wards at risk of needing to be transferred into ICU.”

“To ensure our ability to care for Manitobans, the decision was made to transfer two stable, COVID-positive ICU patients to Thunder Bay for ongoing care,” the spokesperson said, saying the transfers gave capacity in the immediate term while the planning is underway to increase ICU staffing resources.

Manitoba has scaled back surgical procedures to increase ICU staff. In addition, patients in some cases have been transferred to personal care homes and to other hospitals across the province to increase space.

Shared Health said hospitals are seeing younger and healthier patients requiring care for COVID-19 than they did in the second wave of the pandemic.

“These patients are very, very ill and they require our care,” the spokesperson said. “We cannot sustain these kinds of surges for long.”

Shared Health advised Manitobans to stay home over the May long weekend to help reduce stress on emergency departments.

Dr. Anand Kumar, an ICU physician in Manitoba, said he has never seen out-of-province transfers related to capacity happen in Manitoba before.

“On the rare occasion that it has been contemplated, and that might be two or three times in 20 years, it never had to be affected,” he said.

Kumar said it’s not just intensive care that is being impacted by the surge. “I think the hospitals and the ICUs, in general, are in a very dire situation and it would take very little to tip them over,” he said.

Heather Stefanson, Manitoba’s Health and Seniors Minister, said on Wednesday the move was a last resort.

“These are not easy situations; these are not easy decisions that are being made,” she said. “This is not an ideal situation, no question.”

She added it also takes time to redeploy staff.

“Obviously, the rate of those coming into our ICU was exceeding those who were leaving ICU, so we ended up so we ended up in a very unfortunate situation.”

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew says the transfers are a result of political decisions.

“This is not only disturbing, this is dangerous,” he said. “We’re talking about the sickest Manitobans, and now our province doesn’t have the capacity to care for our own people.” 

The provincial dashboard shows there are 80 patients with COVID-19 in intensive care—a jump from the 70 patients in ICU on Tuesday. The data shows 61 patients in ICU with active COVID-19 cases, while the rest are no longer infectious but still require the critical care.

Shared Health said Wednesday there are now 131 patients in Manitoba ICUs. The peak during the second wave was 129.

The pre-COVID ICU capacity was 72 beds.

Of the patients currently in intensive care, 10 are under 40 years old.

 The provincial dashboard reported 293 total COVID-19 hospitalizations, including 231 patients with active COVID-19 cases.

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