Controversial patient transfers to rural hospitals end

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Manitoba has stopped sending hospital patients from Winnipeg to rural Manitoba, but the inter-regional transfer policy city hospitals relied upon to free up beds during COVID-19 surges remains in place.

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Manitoba has stopped sending hospital patients from Winnipeg to rural Manitoba, but the inter-regional transfer policy city hospitals relied upon to free up beds during COVID-19 surges remains in place.

No patients have been transferred as part of the controversial protocol since late July, a Shared Health spokesman stated.

Since last fall, 353 patients have been transferred to hospitals outside their home health regions because of a lack of available beds in Winnipeg.

The focus lately has been on “repatriating” patients who live outside the city by transporting them to health centres closer to home,”to continue their care, when clinically appropriate, at sites closer to their home and support networks,” Shared Health stated.

Regional hospital transfers continue, and patients may still be sent far from home for specific treatments. Since July 11, 243 patients have been transferred to health centres in their home regions. That number includes 22 transfers last week, Shared Health stated.

“Inter-facility transports occur regularly, both within and between health regions, for a variety of reasons. This would include transports to sites capable of performing necessary diagnostic services or providing specialist care. It would also include moves to sites that can appropriately care and treat patients they’re matched with or transports to maintain capacity for admissions at individual sites,” the statement reads.

“Clinical and system leaders within individual health regions are responsible for making these determinations.”

At the peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations last winter, hundreds of patients were sent to smaller hospitals across the province as beds filled up in Winnipeg. Families were often being separated by hundreds of kilometres and their ability to visit was limited. Many of the patients were elderly and awaiting long-term care beds.

Shared Health faced criticism from patients’ families for the protocol, but maintained it would continue.

In January, Deb Bauche raised concerns about the transfers consuming too many rural resources. She and her husband, who suffers from a chronic condition and routinely needs hospital care, live south of Boissevain. When she took him to hospital in Boissevain in January, he couldn’t be admitted because beds were full of transferred patients from outside the region, she told CTV News at the time.

On Wednesday, the retired nurse noted hospitals in her area have temporarily closed or reduced their hours, and her fears have been realized. Bauche said she feels the health system is “getting beyond repair,” and she doesn’t believe higher-ups truly understand how the inter-regional transfers hurt families.

“Shared Health and none of these RHAs understand the impact that it has on the patients as well as their families. When I was nursing, it was holistic,” Bauche said. “So we included family in the patient’s care… and now it’s just like, ‘find them a bed somewhere.’”

The geographic size of the health regions means it’s still possible for patients to end up long distances away from home even if they don’t leave their region, Bauche said.

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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Updated on Wednesday, September 14, 2022 8:35 PM CDT: typo fixed

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