After inquiring about concerns that a suspected COVID-19 patient at Children’s Hospital’s emergency department was left in a crowded waiting room over the weekend, the province sent updated instructions Tuesday afternoon to Manitoba emergency and urgent care departments.
The email sent on behalf of Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Brent Roussin, slugged "Updated COVID-19 Information — ACTION REQUIRED" said hospitals are to triage suspected patients as expeditiously as possible into a single room to reduce exposure to waiting room contacts, and maintain two metres of separation "if unable to immediately isolate." It said to have both the patient and whomever is accompanying them wear a procedure or surgical mask — even if they don’t have any symptoms.
There has been no confirmed COVID-19 case in Manitoba, the risk of catching it remains low, and the premier and provincial health leaders have assured the public that the system is prepared to deal with the virus if and when it gets here. Those representing nurses, paramedics and home health care workers on the front lines, however, have expressed doubts and concerns.
"The government may have a very good plan in place but that information has not been communicated and it hasn’t been disseminated to the staff," Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said Tuesday prior to the province sending out information. "We’re hearing from nurses ‘We don’t know what the plan is, we don’t know what the protocol is.’" The weekend incident at Children’s Hospital alarmed nurses who fear a lack of communication resulted in a clerk not isolating a suspected COVID-19 case, she said.
"The patient was left to wait in a crowded ER waiting room," said Jackson.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Tuesday morning that he wasn’t aware of the situation on the weekend at Children’s Hospital but was confident staff know what to do and follow procedures.
"I know that there have been respiratory illnesses presenting at emergency rooms and protocols are in place," Friesen said in an interview.
A spokesperson for Shared Health said she couldn’t speak to a specific incident but said leaders are regularly doing walk-throughs of the highest volume areas — including Children’s emergency — to ensure that processes are being followed. "If any gaps are identified, they are addressed or updated," she said.
The nurses union wants to make sure the system is ready for an outbreak, said Jackson. There’s a shortage of nurses and not enough of them are fitted for N-95 masks to make sure they don’t get infected with the virus and can’t come to work, she said. If there’s an outbreak of COVID-19 with very sick people, there aren’t enough ICU or inpatient beds, Jackson said.
"Where are we going to put these patients that are very ill?" she asked.
Friesen dismissed concerns about a lack of nurses and front-line staff at HSC being outfitted with N-95 masks, or there being enough available ICU beds.
"At the current time we have adequate provisions," said Friesen. The minister said there are "extra ICU beds in the system right now."
The province is talking to the federal government about a system-wide, nationwide procurement and distribution strategy if more equipment is needed, said Friesen.
"All of us as a global community are really responding very nimbly to this because it looks different from day to day."
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.
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