‘Completely drained’: Health-care workers spread thin as Manitoba grapples with high ICU admissions

WINNIPEG — Doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals are struggling to cope amid rising hospital admissions during Manitoba’s third wave of COVID-19.

Dr. Anand Kumar, a medical professor and critical care physician, finished his last shift in the intensive care unit on Monday.

“This is the worst that I’ve ever seen it in my 30+ years of doing ICU,” said Kumar. “It’s packed to the rafters without room for more. It’s pretty scary for most people.”

Kumar said the age of ICU admissions with COVID-19 is trending down.

“We are seeing a big increase in the number of ICU admissions among young people,” he said. “The old variant didn’t affect young people that much, but these new variants can and are hurting young people now.”

As of Tuesday, 118 Manitobans were in the ICU, 70 of which were there because of COVID-19.

The number is getting closer to the record 129 ICU admissions set in Manitoba during the second wave.

According to Shared Health, before the virus, the average was 79 admissions.

In a statement to CTV News, Shared Health said the biggest problem right now is staffing levels.

“The health system continues to have sufficient equipment, supplies and space to significantly increase acute care capacity. The finite resource in our pandemic plan is our staff, who are being stretched further as more and more COVID patients are admitted to hospital,” said a shared health spokesperson in an email.

At a news conference Tuesday, Manitoba’s health minister said to keep up with ICU demand, health-care personnel will be redeployed as needed.

“This is about staffing, and if we have to redeploy staff, we’ll redeploy staff to ensure we handle the capacity,” said Heather Stefanson, the minister of health and seniors.

An all-hands-on-deck situation, the burden is being felt across the health-care field.

Dr. Renate Singh, an anesthesiologist, said many staff are chipping in to cover for redeployed staff.

“So we are stepping in and doubling as nurses and helping each other out as all our other nurses are being taken as extenders or sent to help out at other COVID wards,” Singh said. “It is exhausting for everyone.”

Stretched even more are nurses.

A recent letter penned to the Manitoba NDP by Grace Hospital staff claims there aren’t enough nurses and many are feeling burnt out or considering quitting.

It’s a sentiment the Manitoba Nurses’ Union (MNU) said it’s been hearing across the province.

“One of the quotes I hear the most is, ‘I have nothing left to give. I am completely drained,'” said Darlene Jackson, president of the MNU.

Jackson said there isn’t an easy solution to fill the gaps as it takes a long time to train nurses.

“A bed without a nurse beside it is just a bed. We are in a critical nursing shortage right now and certainly feeling it,” she said.

According to Dr. Kumar, an end to the third wave could take a while if people don’t follow restrictions.

“I’m not confident that people are following those restrictions sufficiently, and if that’s the case, these numbers are just going to stay up and might even go up from here,” Kumar said.

Kumar said if people remain vigilant, case numbers will drop in about two weeks and ICU admissions would start to fall a week later.

There is a bit of a silver lining to the third wave, though, as health-care workers are now vaccinated, unlike in the first and second waves. 

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