In the aftermath of an intensive-care staffing crisis that forced Manitoba to transfer some COVID-19 patients out of province, Health Minister Heather Stefanson is too busy to meet with her federal counterpart during a visit to Winnipeg.

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In the aftermath of an intensive-care staffing crisis that forced Manitoba to transfer some COVID-19 patients out of province, Health Minister Heather Stefanson is too busy to meet with her federal counterpart during a visit to Winnipeg.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Thursday she was open to meeting with Stefanson, but they hadn't made plans.

"Sadly, no, we haven't been able to arrange a time that works for Minister Stefanson. We've given the minister a number of opportunities to meet and certainly are completely open to meeting with her at her convenience," Hajdu said.

Stefanson was in meetings all day Thursday and couldn't accommodate Hajdu's schedule during the short visit, a provincial government spokesperson told the Free Press in an emailed statement.

Manitoba continues to push for an increase in the federal transfer funding it receives for the provincial health-care system, Stefanson's office said.

"The province has been happy to partner with federal government on many pandemic-related initiatives, but we would reiterate the very clear message to the federal government that the most pressing need is to restore Ottawa’s role as a true, long-term health funding partner with a substantial increase in the Canada Health Transfer," the statement said.

Hajdu's visit comes just over two months after Manitoba began airlifting COVID-19 patients to hospitals in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta because Manitoba ICUs were full and staff shortages meant they couldn't provide proper care at the height of the third wave.

The last of 57 transferred patients was returned home this week, but 12 died in Ontario hospitals.

No other province had to send patients out for COVID treatment. Federal help was called in, including the arrival of 50 nurses and additional lab-technician staff.

Hajdu was asked how the federal government is working with Manitoba to ensure nothing like that happens again, but didn't address the question directly.

"It's been a really huge challenge for all provinces and territories right now, and I think the best way that we can prevent a situation (like that) from happening again is to prevent a future severe wave of COVID-19, and that's why at this stage of the pandemic, I'm very focused on making sure that the province continues with its vaccination campaign," she said, later adding:

"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, but in the future, we'll always be there for Manitobans if they need additional support."

Hajdu arrived in Winnipeg Wednesday and is scheduled to leave the city Friday afternoon after a scheduled visit to the National Microbiology Lab.

She met with families of overdose victims as part of the launch of a national call for proposals for community harm-reduction groups to access $116-million in Health Canada funding to support drug users and treatment programs. She was scheduled to visit the federally-funded vaccine clinic and rapid-testing program at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Thursday afternoon.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
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Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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