The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says a trifecta of seasonal illnesses has stretched the health care system extremely thin.
Normally, says new CEO Vickie Kaminski, one illness will peak and subside just in time for another to take its place. Influenza A, B, and a respiratory illness, however, are all manifesting at once this year.
“We’ve had a very unusual year this year,” Kaminski says.
“As well, we’re seeing significant increases in volumes of patients coming into our emergency departments.”
Kaminski says comparing this December to the same time in 2018, between 120 and 130 more patients are showing up at emergency departments each day.
Of those, 22 require emergency treatment, and 7 need to be admitted.
She says that’s being compounded by the number of people with chronic diseases, and the regular increase in slips and falls associated with the winter season.
“We know those are predictable. What we couldn’t predict was the significant increase in the volume this year,” Kaminski says.
Kristia Williams, chief health operations officer for the WRHA, says surge protocols are being put in effect each day in every emergency department and urgent care centre across the city.
“What that looks like is they will use all the space possible to ensure the sickest of the sick get the care they need,” Williams says.
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“They also look at things like how do we expedite things like [a] diagnostic imaging lab, to help bring all the resources to the emergency departments or urgent cares to get that flow going.”
Additionally, Williams says over-capacity plans are in effect across the city to speed up discharges and free beds wherever possible.
She says they’re coordinating with neighbouring health authorities, but so far only one patient has been transferred elsewhere for adult critical care, and none have had to leave the province.
Adding to the complexity of the issue, the WRHA is in the midst of a nurse staffing shortage.
St. Boniface Hospital has the highest vacancy rate at 18.9 per cent as of December, 2019.
Concordia has the lowest, at 8.4 per cent.
Kaminski says they’d ideally like to have 63 ICU beds available across Winnipeg, but currently have only 58 for no other reason than there’s not enough trained staff to operate them.
“The beds are available, they’re funded, we could open them if we had the staff,” Kaminski says.
“Primarily nursing, we need respiratory therapists, we need physicians, we need all of those things in place.”
Williams says the entire goal right now is recruitment and stabilization.
However, Kaminski pointedly says she doesn’t believe any of this is connected to the recent health care consolidation.
“Every morning when we come in, we have 60 or 70 admitted patients in the emergency department since Boxing Day,” Kaminski says. “That would be 60 or 70 patients admitted in an emergency department regardless of where those emergency departments were.
“Consolidation was absolutely the right thing to do.”
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