Winnipeg ER had nearly twice average number of ill, injured patients when person died waiting for care

The emergency department at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre was dealing with twice its usual number of critically ill or injured patients when a patient died while waiting for care there earlier this week, the head of the hospital says.

Dr. Shawn Young, the chief operating officer of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, said staffing levels in the emergency department were nearly at 100 per cent on Monday at about 11:30 p.m., when the patient arrived by ambulance and was triaged.

An hour later, that patient’s condition began deteriorating, and although staff attempted to revive the person, they were declared dead, Young said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“We acknowledge that events like this shake the public confidence in the health-care system at times,” Young said.

An investigation is currently underway looking at the patient’s time in the emergency department as a potential critical incident, and will determine what could have been done differently, he said.

The median wait time in the ER was over two hours that night, Young said. Although that’s high, that’s been the average lately, he said.

A woman with long blonde hair in a black top stands in the background as a man in a blue shirt and a lab coat with dark hair and a goatee stands behind three microphones.
Jennifer Cumpsty, left, executive director of Acute Health Services at HSC Winnipeg, spoke alongside Dr. Shawn Young, right, the hospital’s chief operating officer, on Thursday to share details about the death of a patient who was waiting for care when they died in the emergency department waiting room. (Alana Cole/CBC)

Some patients have had to wait hours longer, though, because of staffing challenges in other units making it difficult to get admitted patients into beds.

“Staffing impacts our ability to flow patients and get them into the most appropriate environment. So patients are often hung up in the emergency department for hours and days on end when they need a bed and we can’t get them a bed,” Young said.

Darlene Jackson, the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, says several nurses were working overtime on Monday night. 

“This incident was absolutely a result of a critical nursing shortage in that department. We had many nurses working overtime due to lack of staff, and it was absolutely a critical situation,” Jackson said in an interview with CBC on Thursday.

“This is a perfect example of a failure in the system.”

A woman wears maroon-coloured glasses, a polka-dot shirt and has spiked red hair.
Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson says nurses have brought forward concerns about patient care at HSC since November, but haven’t seen immediate concrete changes. (CBC)

Jackson says HSC nurses brought their concerns about patient safety to Health Minister Audrey Gordon during a meeting in November, but nothing was done to immediately address their concerns.

“There’s absolutely no plan put forward, there’s been no action on any of that, and we’re anxiously waiting to see what her health human resources plan holds for those nurses in the Health Sciences Centre emergency [department],” she said.

CBC News has requested a response from the health minister’s office.

Sparring in question period

Earlier in the day, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked Premier Heather Stefanson during question period to respond to the death of the patient.

“We will fight to ensure all Manitobans get the health care that they need when they need it,” Stefanson replied, but said she wouldn’t speak to the matter further until the investigation is completed.

Kinew said there’s nothing that prevents the premier from discussing problems with staffing levels and wait times at HSC.

“There were dozens of admitted patients waiting for a bed there on Monday night. It’s our understanding that some patients waited over 80 hours for admission,” he said.

“Manitobans deserve to know if these conditions contributed to the death that we saw at the HSC ER.”

In response, Stefanson offered thanks to health-care workers.