January 23, 2020

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Standing-room only: patient surge hits city ERs, urgent care

Winnipeg hospitals are experiencing such a crush of patients that at least one emergency room Friday asked persons accompanying loved ones waiting to see a doctor to stand up so incoming patients could take a seat.

According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the number of patients streaming into the city's hospital emergency departments and urgent care centres have spiked since Christmas. Ambulance arrivals are up, and ERs are getting backed-up with patients suffering from the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

"We have been extremely busy," said Krista Williams, WRHA chief health operations officer and chief nursing officer.

St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department was so backed-up Friday afternoon, people accompanying patients waiting to see a doctor had to stand to make way for other patients.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department was so backed-up Friday afternoon, people accompanying patients waiting to see a doctor had to stand to make way for other patients.

She said hospitals have been implementing over-capacity and surge protocols to tend to all the ill patients.

"A lot of people are coming in with fever, cough, congestion, general weakness, shortness of breath," Williams said in a brief interview Monday. "The most important thing is that the sickest of the sick get the care in a timely way, and that's what we have been focused on."

A Winnipeg woman says St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department was so backed-up Friday afternoon persons accompanying patients waiting to see a doctor had to stand to make way for others.

"A lot of people are coming in with fever, cough, congestion, general weakness, shortness of breath. The most important thing is that the sickest of the sick get the care in a timely way, and that's what we have been focused on." – Krista Williams, WRHA chief health operations officer and chief nursing officer.

"This situation is just incredible and unacceptable," Svitlana Maluzynsky wrote in an email Saturday to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Health Minister Cameron Friesen that was copied to media outlets.

"It's outrageous to expect that those of us who are assisting our loved ones at the ER are capable of standing for hours. Even those of us in the best health would struggle to stand for hours on end!"

Maluzynsky, a librarian and one-time constituency assistant to former NDP MLA Doug Martindale, said she spent five hours at the hospital, accompanying her spouse, who was treated for an injury.

Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative party pledged to build a new emergency department at St. Boniface hospital during last summer's election campaign.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative party pledged to build a new emergency department at St. Boniface hospital during last summer's election campaign.

Before travelling to the emergency room, they contacted Health Links to determine whether an ER or an urgent care centre was more appropriate and were advised to head to an emergency room.

The Progressive Conservatives promised in last summer's election campaign to build a new emergency department at St. Boniface. Last month, the government announced a tender would be issued early this year for a review of what would be needed in a new, expanded facility.

At mid-afternoon Monday, St. Boniface had the longest anticipated wait of any emergency room or urgent care facility in the city at 6.5 hours (the time by which 90 per cent of patients would be seen).

But waits were also long throughout the city. Emergency rooms at Grace Hospital and Health Sciences Centre had waits of five and 4.5 hours, respectively. Waits at Seven Oaks, Concordia and Victoria urgent care centres were five, 4.5 and four hours, respectively. At Children's Hospital, the wait was 3.5 hours.

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said city hospitals have "huge capacity issues," and not just during flu season. There's a shortage of beds and nursing vacancies are high, she said.

What's needed is additional capacity in the health system to handle patient surges, Jackson said.

"The flu happens every year in Manitoba in the winter, and every year the employer acts surprised," she said.

However, Williams said this year the city is being hit simultaneously with a cluster of viruses, including Influenza A and B, and respiratory syncytial virus, which causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.

"We haven't seen that before in previous years," she said. "Normally, we would see Influenza A, and B, a little bit later. But now we're seeing them all happen at the same time. So that's put greater strain on us."

The WRHA is expected to call a news conference Tuesday to address the issue.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 7, 2020 at 2:00 PM CST: fixes typo

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