‘There is no capacity left’: Manitoba ICU physicians call for help amid 3rd wave of COVID-19

Manitoba intensive care physicians are desperately looking for options to properly care for COVID-19 ICU patients amid the pandemic’s third wave.

Local intensive care wards are near the brink and modelling released by the Manitoba government suggests that the number of ICU patients will continue increasing by dozens in a matter of weeks.

Three Manitoba COVID-19 ICU patients had to be transported to Thunder Bay, Ont., earlier this week. No patients were shipped Thursday, but several hospitals in northwestern Ontario are preparing to accept up to 20 COVID-19 ICU patients from Manitoba, CBC News reports.

“The situation is dire,” said Dr. Anand Kumar, an intensive care physician and infectious disease specialist in Winnipeg.

“I would have never thought that, in Canada, this kind of situation could be allowed to come to pass.”

On Thursday, public health officials reported 603 new COVID-19 cases — a new single-day record.

There are 291 Manitobans in hospital being treated for the illness, including 76 in the ICU.

“There is no capacity left in the ICU in Manitoba,” said Kumar.

Doctors Manitoba, which represents over 4,000 physicians, is calling for help in the province’s ICUs and emergency rooms.

On Thursday, the organization released survey data from 54 critical care and emergency physicians.

The data suggests that almost each doctor is concerned their hospitals aren’t ready to accommodate the surge of COVID-19 patients, while 90 per cent of those surveyed are worried patients won’t get the care they need.

Ninety-two per cent of the physicians are concerned about where ICU patients will go, but all 54 doctors surveyed are concerned that there aren’t enough nurses to care for patients.

Typically there is one nurse for each ICU patient, but health professionals who recently spoke with CBC News have aired concerns this ratio may increase to one nurse per two or three patients under the current surge.

“That will significantly degrade care,” said Kumar, adding that he believes there are signs of degrading care already.

The other local option, Kumar says, is to do further triage. Hospitals aren’t triaging for life support, but they are for admission to intensive care.

“We are currently having to leave patients up on the floor, who we would normally bring down to monitor closely because they’re high-risk of deteriorating,” he said.

“We are having to leave them on the floor to try to monitor them there and then intervene only if they deteriorate. That creates a risk for them.”

There are few local options to help solve the situation, the Doctors Manitoba survey says. It’s likely the province will have to lean on other provinces or call for military aid.

Dr. Anand Kumar, an intensive care physician in Winnipeg, says there are few options left to expand ICU capacity except for transportation patients to other jurisdictions. ((Canadian Press/John Woods))

Kumar agrees, saying that ICUs are running out of options to expand capacity other than transporting patients to other jurisdictions.

He expects that will “be a routine thing for the next few weeks, assuming that other provinces can take patients.”

Manitoba Health Minister Heather Stefanson fielded multiple questions from reporters regarding ICUs during a news conference Thursday.

“We had more people coming into the ICU than those that were leaving the ICU, so some difficult decisions were made at that time,” said Stefanson.

“We are working towards increasing that capacity even further.”

The ministry is working on increasing capacity through hiring and training more nurses for those wards. There is also a team scanning what works in other jurisdictions to put a plan together for moving forward, Stefanson told reporters.

She did not provide insight into how the province and health-care professionals plan on treating future COVID-19 patients needing critical care in the meantime.

Stefanson did note, however, that over 70 per cent of the people in hospital due to COVID-19 have not yet been vaccinated.

People 40 and younger have been worst hit by COVID-19 in the third wave and many in that demographic have had more severe outcomes. Most in that demographic also had to wait longer, or are still waiting, to be vaccinated.

Despite the capacity issues when it comes to COVID-19, minister Stefanson urges the public to seek medical care at health-care facilities if they need it.