Southern Manitoba hospital forced to order more oxygen to keep up with COVID-19 patients

The regular oxygen supplies at the Boundary Trails Health Centre between Winkler and Morden, Man., can’t keep up with the number of COVID-19 needing care, said the chief medical officer of the Southern Health authority.

Up to now during the pandemic, the hospital’s oxygen concentrator was able to provide enough supply for all patients that needed it.

During this surge in the third wave, the number of patients admitted and requiring oxygen has pushed that concentrator close to its capacity, said Denis Fortier with Southern Health.

“These … systems were built with redundancies, with lots of capacity to expand and contract based on level of requirements, and we’ve never had to worry about that until 2021, during the third wave of the pandemic,” he said.

The hospital’s COVID-19 ward is equipped with 15 beds, but recently the number of COVID-19 patients at the hospital has reached as high as 20.

When the concentrator nears its capacity, the hospital has backup tanks that it uses to supplement. Recently, the hospital has been using more of those tanks than it ever has before, and it’s had to order more, Fortier said. 

“It’s not that we’re running out of oxygen, it’s that we’re getting close to the capacity that this machine was built for,” he said.

While the hospital might not be in danger of running out of oxygen, Fortier said these are “exceptional” circumstances.

“What that’s telling me is, Manitoba is being crushed, is having a lot of difficulty with the number of positive COVID patients arriving in our hospitals,” he said.

With 76 active cases as of Thursday, Winkler has the second-highest number of active cases of any health district outside of Winnipeg, behind Powerview-Pine Falls.

In late April, members of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force released data showing that Winkler and the surrounding health district of Stanley had the lowest vaccination rates in the province, at 13.6 per cent and 6.1 per cent, respectively.

The two health districts still rank at the bottom in terms of vaccine uptake. As of Thursday, 22.7 per cent of eligible adults in Winkler had been vaccinated, and 11.4 per cent in Stanley. 

Although Fortier says the low vaccination rates in the area don’t entirely explain the high numbers of COVID-19 cases needing hospitalization, he said it is “concerning”

“If we had vaccination levels of 50 or 60 per cent, I think we would see a difference,” he said.

The people getting infected with COVID-19 are largely vulnerable because they haven’t been vaccinated, either because they only recently became eligible or because they have been hesitating.

“I think that having people vaccinated would absolutely help in this particular stage, in this particular area,” he said.