The Manitoba government has asked the federal government to send ICU nurses to help the province deal with a health system stretched thin by the fourth wave of COVID-19.
In a statement sent late Monday, a provincial spokesperson said the province has asked the federal government to provide 15 to 30 ICU nurses for roughly six weeks.
They said the request was made over the weekend and officials are still waiting to hear back from the federal government.
The request comes as a group of doctors called for military help for hospitals in an open letter to the government obtained by Global News,
Manitoba health officials warn surgical, diagnostic backlog to grow longer
The letter, signed by 10 physicians in areas including critical care and rheumatology, is the latest signal that intensive care units are hard-pressed to keep up with caseloads.
“Our critical-care services are failing. We will once again have to fly out ventilated patients to other provinces. Meanwhile, we cannibalize essential services to maintain ICU capacity,” doctors wrote in the letter.
“Federal assistance in the form of Armed Forces ICU health workers should be requested immediately to maintain current ICU capacity.”
Read the full letter here:
A provincial spokesperson told Global News there were 102 patients in Manitoba ICUs as of Monday morning, including 35 patients with COVID-19.
That’s up 17 per cent compared to a week ago and is 42 per cent higher than normal, pre-COVID-19 ICU capacity.
Over the weekend, the spokesperson said ICUs saw high of 106 patients at one point, forcing officials to make “short-term staffing moves” to temporarily bring ICU capacity to 110 beds.
Manitoba minister unveils 5-step plan to tackle medical backlog due to COVID-19
“Contingency planning is underway to maintain increased capacity in ICU over the longer term,” the spokesperson said in an email.
That planning includes making a call to rural and recently retired nurses with critical care training or experience to take shifts, and encouraging staff with experience working in acute care to join teams working in designated COVID-19 units across the province.
The spokesperson said more inter-regional patient transfers will also happen this week and in coming weeks to free up space in medical units.
That process sees patients the province says are stable moved to other facilities with capacity, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away.
The province says 79 patients from the Winnipeg and the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority have already been moved in the past two months.
Manitoba has also had to cancel many surgeries so staff can be transferred to help with intensive care. Last spring, dozens of patients were flown to other provinces to free up ICU beds.
Manitoba doctors warn healthcare system straining under increasing COVID-19 numbers
Capacity now is even more limited than in the spring, the doctors who signed the open letter warn.
“ICU nurses are in shorter supply because of burnout, resignations and diminishing volunteerism. As a consequence, ICU capacity can no longer be expanded to levels that we saw six months ago.”
Global News reached out to Health Minister Audrey Gordon’s office for comment, but there was no immediate reply.
Last week, Gordon announced a committee to look at reducing the backlog the pandemic has caused of surgeries and diagnostic tests. Some people could be sent to other provinces to get treated more quickly, she said.
That announcement followed a warning from Doctors Manitoba, which represents more than 4,000 physicians, that the backlog has grown to more than 152,000 cases.
On Monday Manitoba reported a total of 478 new cases and eight deaths since Friday. Health officials said 142 people were in hospital with COVID-19 and the province’s five-day test-positivity rate stood at 5.7 per cent.
— with files from Brittany Greenslade and The Canadian Press
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