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Health-care system buckling as Manitoba COVID-19 hospitalizations surge

Home-care workers sound alarm as outbreaks declared at 24 facilities

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Manitoba hospitals were treating a near-record number of COVID-19 patients Tuesday, as the pandemic put the province’s biggest emergency room and home-care workers under increasing strain.

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This article was published 11/01/2022 (330 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba hospitals were treating a near-record number of COVID-19 patients Tuesday, as the pandemic put the province’s biggest emergency room and home-care workers under increasing strain.

A health-care worker told the Free Press Tuesday that coronavirus patients at Health Sciences Centre who don’t require intensive care are waiting up to three days in the ER before a bed becomes available on a COVID ward at St. Boniface Hospital or Brandon Regional Health Centre.

The worker, who did not want to be identified, said the wards have been full for a week, adding Manitoba desperately needs another one to cope with a sharp increase in admissions amid a fourth wave fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES On Tuesday, Manitoba reported 2,012 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a provincial test positivity rate of 48.1 per cent.

“I can only see this continuing to get worse before it gets better. Another COVID ward has to be opened somewhere,” the worker said. “There’s nothing sustainable about this current situation. We realize resources are scarce, but there’s got to be beds somewhere that can be converted to COVID beds. They need to find a place to put patients.”

ER staff are worried patient care is being compromised, and they feel their concerns are being ignored by Shared Health, the worker said.

“If my family member was sick from COVID, I would not want them coming to HSC, as they will not get the care they require,” they said.

“If my family member was sick from COVID, I would not want them coming to HSC, as they will not get the care they require.” – A healthcare worker

The number of people being treated for COVID-19 in Manitoba hospitals increased by 40 to 418 Tuesday, according to the province’s online COVID-19 dashboard.

The pandemic high of 445 patients was set Dec. 5, 2020, during the province’s second wave of the pandemic.

Three more coronavirus patients were admitted to intensive care units Tuesday, bringing the total to 42.

HSC, one of the largest hospitals in Canada, does not have a COVID medicine ward.

Some COVID patients who aren’t sick enough to go to the ICU wait two or three days to be transferred to a different hospital, the worker said, adding others wait so long — three or four days — that their conditions improve and they are sent home.

Wait times have ballooned within the last week, as the virus puts more Manitobans in hospital.

At one point this week, eight acute care spots in HSC’s ER were occupied by COVID patients waiting to be transferred, the worker said, adding some coronavirus patients are placed close to non-COVID patients.

“They’re mixed in with other patients,” the source said. “There’s a plastic curtain separating them.”

A Shared Health spokesman said more beds were added to COVID wards on Tuesday after other sites were expanded last week, adding hospitals without COVID units are also caring for infected Manitobans.

HSC does not have a dedicated COVID ward because its space and resources are needed for the specialized services it already offers, the spokesman said.

To improve patient flow, Shared Health is continuing to transfer patients to health-care facilities around the province, with 16 moved in the past week.

The pandemic is also stretching Winnipeg home care workers to their limit, their union said.

The pandemic is also stretching Winnipeg home care workers to their limit, Shared Health said.

Twenty-four of 39 long-term care homes overseen by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority were dealing with COVID outbreaks Tuesday, an increase of five from last week. Three deaths have occurred during the outbreaks, with 207 active cases among residents and 106 among care home staff.

Vulnerable clients aren’t getting the help they need because of severe staffing shortages and employee burnout aggravated by low wages, said CUPE Local 204 president Debbie Boissonneault.

Home care visits are being cancelled at unprecedented rates due to COVID illness and isolation requirements, CUPE Local 204 president Debbie Boissonneault said.

She said home care visits are being cancelled at unprecedented rates due to COVID illness and isolation requirements.

“The stress on existing staff is leading to burnout, increased injuries, resignations, and medical leaves, including for schedulers and other office staff who help administer the program,” said Boissonneault.

Boissonneault called on the province and the WRHA to create more full-time positions, hike pay and improve benefits, adding home-care workers are casual or part-time and do not have adequate access to paid sick leave.

“Every effort is being made to maintain visits where possible, however, given the current volume of staff illnesses/absences, some cancellations will be inevitable,” a WRHA spokesman said. “Most WRHA home care staff have access to paid sick leave and we are currently working towards access to rapid antigen testing for all symptomatic staff, including home care staff.”

— with files from Danielle Da Silva

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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