By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is urgently asking Ottawa for nurses amid warnings that the province’s intensive care units are close to being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
In a written statement Monday, the provincial Health Department said it has asked the federal government to provide up to 30 nurses for about six weeks.
“Assistance from the federal government would increase ICU capacity to address continued pressure in major acute care facilities due to the affects of COVID-19 while allowing our surgical slates to remain open,” the statement read.
The move came six days after Doctors Manitoba, which represents more than 4,000 physicians across the province, warned that the health-care system was close to being “on the brink,” and one day after a group of 10 doctors called for military help.
Manitoba’s intensive care units were already limited prior to the pandemic. Despite efforts to boost capacity, the system was overrun last spring, and dozens of intensive care patients were flown to other provinces in a bid to free up bed space.
The 10 doctors who wrote to the government on the weekend, and who come from areas such as critical care and rheumatology, warned Manitoba is heading toward the same scenario again.
“Our critical-care services are failing. We will once again have to fly out ventilated patients to other provinces. Meanwhile, we cannibalize essential services to maintain ICU capacity,” the doctors wrote.
“Federal assistance in the form of Armed Forces ICU health workers should be requested immediately to maintain current ICU capacity.”
The doctors also warned that the hospital system has less capacity now than in the spring.
“ICU nurses are in shorter supply because of burnout, resignations, and diminishing volunteerism,” the letter states.
The Opposition New Democrats said the Progressive Conservative government has failed to learn from previous waves of the pandemic and expand the number of intensive care beds.
“Given what we’re hearing over and over … people reaching out to us even on Grey Cup Sunday to express the severity of the situation in Manitoba’s health-care system, it tells us that we need to take action now,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon did not agree to an interview request.
The province reported 478 new cases and eight deaths since Friday. Health officials said 142 people were in hospital with COVID-19, 34 of whom were in intensive care. The five-day test-positivity rate was at 5.7 per cent.