Manitoba investigating failed attempt at airlifting COVID-19 patient who died

Manitoba’s premier says the province is investigating the handling of a seriously ill COVID-19 patient who died after an attempt to airlift them to a hospital in Ontario. 

“I understand that that review is already underway at the transport level,” Premier Brian Pallister told question period Thursday, during a sombre back-and-forth with NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

Earlier, Kinew said the protocol for assessing which patients are airlifted out of province must be examined after the death of a patient.

“Tragically though, if one … of these patients has already passed away, it does suggest that whatever criteria is being used needs to be reassessed,” Kinew said.

“It does seem as though someone was cleared for transport who shouldn’t have been.”

‘My mom didn’t want them to move her’

Officials haven’t released the name, but family members say it is Krystal Mousseau, 31, a member of Ebb and Flow First Nation.

She died Tuesday, one day after she was supposed to have been transferred to Ottawa for further care, her younger sister, Kristy Mousseau, said in an interview with CBC News late Thursday. 

“My mom didn’t want them to move her.”

Pallister said his acting health minister, Kelvin Goertzen, has asked Shared Health to assess whether a critical care incident should be called.

The premier said a report would reflect the seriousness and unintended harms experienced by individuals affected by Manitoba’s health-care system. 

“I do agree the answers as to the specifics of the incident, as to any potential human error or mechanical malfunction aspects, are addressed, and that information should be made available and be made available most certainly to the family as well,” Pallister said.

The government was grilled Thursday on the death of Mousseau, with Kinew saying he was asking sensitive questions after speaking with the woman’s two daughters and offering his condolences. 

Kinew asked the premier why the family wasn’t consulted before the decision to ship her to Ontario.

“I can’t honestly answer him right now because I don’t know what the process is that is followed, but I think it’s an important question to have answered for the family,” Pallister said.

Kristy Mousseau, left, with her sister Krystal. Krystal was scheduled to travel to Ottawa to receive care for COVID-19. She died after she was brought back to Brandon, Man. (Krystal Mousseau/Facebook)

Kristy Mousseau is disappointed the family’s opinion wasn’t considered. 

“They didn’t ask my mom. They just phoned her and told her they were going to move [her daughter] to Ottawa because they needed a bed … and she would be better off going over there because she needed more treatment.”

She said she would strive to get answers about her sister’s final days.

“I’m going to push forward. I want answers, I need answers,” Mousseau said. 

“I need to know — was my sister neglected in that hospital. Were they giving her the proper treatment?”

So far, 26 patients have been transferred out-of-province as Manitoba’s health-care system teeters on the brink from an influx of COVID-19 patients.

After question period, Kinew said he wasn’t interested in politicizing the tragedy, but wanted answers to prevent other families from enduring the same heartbreak.

Shared Health said in a statement it keeps families “well informed in advance of any potential patient transfer” and decisions on who is eligible transported are based on the appropriateness of the individual patient.

Dr. Rob Grierson, chief medical officer of Shared Health’s Emergency Response Services, said in an interview Wednesday he wasn’t aware if a family could refuse an out-of-province transfer.

“That’s a real tough question to answer. Up until this point, I believe we haven’t been confronted with that question,” Grierson said, stating it wasn’t up to him, as a physician, to answer. He makes the final call about who is transported out of province.

He explained there’s risk involved any time a patient is moved out of an intensive care unit, where they are briefly unplugged from ventilators during each transfer, from the hospital to the ambulance and to the flight.

“This patient did deteriorate, so their condition changed while they were being moved from the ground ambulance to the aircraft,” he said.

Airlifting critically ill is volatile: Singh

Dr. Renate Singh is an anesthesiologist at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, who previously served as medical director for Lifeflight, which operated the province’s 24-hour air ambulance program until last year.

“I think it’s very easy to think the worst about somebody not doing their job correctly [but] transport is a very volatile kind of environment, Singh told CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio with guest host Sam Samson on Thursday. 

That said, “these are unusual events — deaths in transport — because we generally will not undertake a transport if a patient is too unstable to transport.”

She said the medical community does not make decisions lightly around choosing which patients to transport, but airlifting is currently unavoidable because the health-care system is overwhelmed.

Manitoba continues to send COVID-19 patients to hospitals in Ontario for care, and was planning Thursday to move patients to Saskatchewan as well.

The 26 patients airlifted outside Manitoba range in age from their 30s to 70s, Shared Health said in a statement. The majority are in their 50s and 60s, as well as four people in their 30s and two in their 70s.