A surge in demand in at least one hospital emergency department in Winnipeg has left patients on stretchers in hallways waiting to be admitted to a ward, as labour leaders raise concerns care could be compromised.
Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Bob Moroz said pressure at Grace Hospital has become so intense, staff have compared the situation to a war zone and are concerned they won’t be able to keep up with patient demand.
"They are telling us that this is the worst that they have seen during COVID (pandemic)," Moroz said Wednesday. "They are worried and they don’t believe they will be able to help everybody who comes in who needs that help.
"They’re scared for the people coming into these emergency rooms and they’re worried about themselves."
The association represents about 6,500 people working in the health-care system, including respiratory therapists, imaging technologists and occupational therapists.
Moroz said members in the Grace emergency department have reported the facility as being "beyond full," and patients are being triaged and placed into beds in the hallway rather than admitted to a ward.
Many of the incoming patients are testing positive for COVID-19, he noted.
"It is absolutely crushing," Moroz said. "We need to stop people from getting sick from COVID and Omicron (variant)."
At one point Wednesday, as many as 74 patients were being treated in Grace Hospital’s emergency department, which has a typical bed base of 31. At least 17 were positive for COVID-19 on arrival.
A spokesman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said such COVID-19 patients are being cohorted, rather than assigned beds in a hallway.
"There are indeed patients in (the emergency department) waiting for admittance to hospital who are on stretchers in the hall outside the regular ED treatment rooms," the spokesman said in a statement to the Free Press.
Patients who are given beds in the halls are monitored and cared for in the same way as others, the spokesman said, noting the use of hallway medicine is a temporary response to the surge of COVID-19 positive, and suspected, patients.
"Grace Hospital is addressing this scenario with a team approach and a get-it-done attitude," the spokesman said. "The hospital is balancing staff, including clinical managers and directors, across all areas of the hospital to address areas of greatest need."
At the same time, Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson described emergency rooms as overrun and filled beyond capacity by patients with non-pandemic health issues but, at present, there are not enough staff to treat them.
"This is causing a serious backlog on an already taxed and worked-to-capacity system," Jackson said. "The longer we stay stuck here, the worse off patient care will be for all Manitobans."
Moroz said workers are becoming increasingly concerned they will have to turn patients away while others are leaving without being seen.
"That is devastating to get to a point where you’re not going to be able to help people in the emergency room," Moroz said.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said her office meets with health system leaders daily, sometimes hourly, to get situation updates from the front line as the Omicron variant throttles the health system.
"I don’t want the message to Manitobans to be that we somehow lost sight of what is happening in hospitals and ICUs," Gordon said during a lengthy news conference Wednesday. "We do see the escalation in the numbers of people that are presenting."
The minister called on the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including the booster dose.
"Our message today is: the way that you stay out of the ER hallways and the way that you stay out of our hospitals and our ICUs is to recharge your immunity by getting your third dose," Gordon said. "That is how you help yourself, your friends, your family members and all Manitobans and it’s not by lining up in the ERs."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.