‘It’s scary’: Winnipeg hospital doctor worried about ICUs and lack of capacity

At least two intensive care units at one Winnipeg hospital have hit capacity and one doctor said it’s only a matter of time before all are over capacity.

He’s worked with some of the sickest patients in Winnipeg and has seen the effect COVID-19 is having on Manitoba’s health care system and specifically ICU beds.

READ MORE: St. Boniface Hospital intensive care unit officially over capacity

Now the Winnipeg hospital doctor, who Global News has agreed not to identity because he fears job repercussions, said people need to start to worry.

“They need to be concerned. They need to concerned about themselves, concerned about their families and their friends,” he told Global News.

The doctor said when they start to run out of beds, physicians and medical professionals are going to be put in tough positions when it comes to deciding who they can care for.

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“Having to choose between patient A and patient B because patient A is five years younger and has one or two less health problems?  That’s not fair,” he said.

“It’s awful. If you think about having your family member be that person who doesn’t get that bed… that’s not a situation you ever want to go through.”

Critical care beds are used for the sickest patients and can include people who have had heart attacks and strokes, or those who have suffered a major trauma, and also those with severe cases of COVID-19.

“If we only have one bed left in the entire province that’s pretty hard to come by,” he said. “Unforunatley when it gets into the situation of who is best suited for that bed, that’s not a situation we as a medical professional want to be in.”

Click to play video 'St. Boniface ICU is full' St. Boniface ICU is full

St. Boniface ICU is full

On Wednesday, Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said Winnipeg’s 71 critical care beds were at 92 per cent capacity, leaving just six free in the city.

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“By the time we left work at the end of the day (Wednesday) there was maybe one critical care bed in the province,” the doctor said.

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Less than 24 hours later, St. Boniface Hospital hit capacity in two units.

According to a memo posted to the hospital’s website, the Intensive Care Medicine Surgery (ICMS) unit, where the hospital says it cares for its most critical patients, had all 14 beds occupied.

Click to play video 'Doctors Manitoba on health care system strain' Doctors Manitoba on health care system strain

Doctors Manitoba on health care system strain

The hospital said they had to admit a patient to the Intensive Care Cardiac Surgery (ICCS) unit as a result, which was then put at capacity and unable to accept new patients because too many staff were off sick or isolating are a COVID-19 exposure.

Half of all ICU beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, according to the hospital.

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Seventeen Manitoba doctors signed a letter Thursday asking the premier and health minister to close things down before hospitals are overwhelmed.

“To understand what is coming, the experience of El Paso, Texas (like Winnipeg, a city of about 750,000) is instructive. According to the city website, in the week around Oct 1, they had daily case counts of 150 to 200 (similar to what we are experiencing now),” they wrote.

“Two weeks later around October 14, case counts had risen to 350 to 550 per day. On October 28, they had about 1100 cases. This is exponential growth. They currently have 111 patients being mechanically ventilated with more than 220 in ICU and over 900 admitted to local hospitals.

Our public health authority is clearly using an incremental targeted approach (an escalation strategy) to local outbreaks in order to minimize economic disruption. That is a worthy goal and was worth trying,” the letter added.

But this incremental approach not suited for epidemics involving a rapidly progressive and dangerous infection like the COVID19 virus. It will fail.

“By the time definitive evidence of failure of the incremental targeted approach to stop epidemic progression is apparent, it’s too late. You are 2 or 3 weeks behind.”

The doctors urged a “full shutdown immediately” similar to one in the spring to reduce numbers quickly.

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Read the letter below:

The Nurses Union told Global News 15 nurses have tested positive at St. Boniface hospital including four who work in the ICU. Eight others are self-isolating awaiting results.

“We’re already in a nursing shortage, Nurses Union President Darlene Jackson said. “We have crushing workloads out there we’re seeing areas where nurse to patient ratio would normally be two patients to one nurse. We’re now seeing areas of five patients to one nurse.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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