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This article was published 7/4/2016 (1458 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Severe cases of flu, respiratory distress syndrome and a spike in the number of newborns needing intensive care prompted the Health Sciences Centre to declare a state of emergency this week at Children’s Hospital.
By declaring an emergency, the hospital can invoke Article 10 of the nurses’ collective agreement to redeploy staff and change schedules to meet patient needs, said Lori Lamont, vice-president and chief of nursing for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
This flu season, there have been fewer cases but more people getting really sick from it and requiring intensive care, Lamont said. It prompted the WRHA to declare a state of emergency at St. Boniface General Hospital on March 18 to move staff around and change schedules.
"The pressure was really in the intensive care units," said Lamont. "We had high numbers of ventilated patients who were very, very sick," she said. "Both adults and children were really sick and requiring intensive care."
While the situation with adults has tapered off — the emergency was lifted at St. Boniface hospital on Wednesday — it hasn’t at the Children’s Hospital intensive care unit.
There a "perfect storm" has developed, said Lamont. More kids are still in intensive care with the flu, she added. At the same time, Children’s Hospital’s ICU is dealing with respiratory distress syndrome, which is common at this time of year as well as a higher-than-usual number of newborns and premature babies requiring intensive care.
The WRHA declared an emergency at Children’s Hospital on Tuesday to redeploy nurses with intensive care training and experience to work in its ICU. They haven’t had to impose mandatory overtime, she said.
"Our staff have worked very hard and stepped up to the plate," Lamont said. For six weeks, they’ve been busy with the volume of patients ending up in the ICU, she said. Declaring an emergency at Children’s Hospital on the heels of the St. Boniface emergency was necessary, she said.
"It’s really trying to take some of the pressure off staff who’ve been working above and beyond the call of duty for the last six weeks," said Lamont.
Having to declare states of emergency at hospitals is a symptom of an unhealthy system, said Tory health critic Myrna Driedger.
"I can’t recall a state of emergency being called at a hospital like this," said Driedger (PC-Charleswood). "I can understand if there was a pandemic but we expect flus and respiratory conditions. We should be ready for things like this," Driedger said Thursday.
"The nursing shortage must be pretty bad to have to do this."
"The question is how did we get to this point?" In order to fill gaps in a "nursing shortage," the province over the last two years spent $50 million on nurses’ overtime and $52 million over the last five years hiring private agency nurses, Driedger said, citing information obtained through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
"It speaks to a crisis in patient safety and concerns about potential staff burnout."
The WHRA responded that Article 10 was, in fact, invoked earlier this year.
"During the adult flu outbreak, Article 10 was invoked in order to increase critical care capacity at St. Boniface Hospital, where we used space in our recovery room to accommodate patients," the WHRA said in a release Thursday.
"During that time, when there were high levels of surgical activity scheduled, we moved those cases to other hospitals in the region, rather than cancel the procedures."
The need for intensive care beds this flu season "really put a strain on the system," said Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union. Many of the sickest adults were in their 20s and 30s. Community hospitals opened up ICU beds that had been closed, she said.
Many patients were taken to St. Boniface hospital’s ICU, said Mowat. "It came to the point where St. B was totally overrun and they needed to declare Article 10," she said. Article 10 of the nurses’ collective agreement allows the WRHA to adjust staffing and schedules when there’s an emergency.
"You go along as much as you can with nurses voluntarily working extra hours and longer shifts, then you have to have the ability to move nurses from other areas," said Mowat.
Intensive care requires a high level of skill and experience and more nurses to care for patients on ventilators and other machines in order to keep them alive, she said.
"The nurses, as usual, are going above and beyond to make sure patients get safe care but you come to the point where they’re exhausted and declare Article 10," Mowat said.
Children’s Hospital began restricting visitors two weeks ago. It is asking people not to bring their children to visit and asking anyone who is not feeling well to stay away.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Updated on Thursday, April 7, 2016 at 5:00 PM CDT: Photo added.