43 Winnipeg surgeries cancelled as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge: chief nursing officer

Dozens of surgical procedures have been cancelled as capacity at Manitoba’s health-care facilities is stretched by rapidly rising COVID-19 numbers, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer says.

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Lanette Siragusa said 43 surgeries have recently been cancelled.

Some of those cancellations are because health-care workers are at home self-isolating, while others are due to changes made to protect staff, including new rules for personal protective equipment, she said.

“Our most precious resource is our staff,” Siragusa said.

“We are seeing … that as cases increase in the community, they are also increasing among health-care workers,” she said.

“While the vast majority of our positive health-care worker cases were contacted outside of work, and not in the workplace, there are unavoidable HR challenges that result.”

There are currently 37 active cases of COVID-19 among health-care workers in Manitoba, with 32 in Winnipeg, three in the Prairie Mountain Health region and one each in the Interlake-Eastern and Southern Health regions. 

“Many more staff, though, are self-isolating following contact tracing, which has identified them as close contacts of confirmed cases,” she said.

Siragusa also highlighted an example mentioned at a news conference Monday, involving a health-care team that had to be placed on self-isolation after a surgical patient failed to disclose they had been in close contact with a known COVID-19 case.

“I want to repeat, we need the public to be honest with screeners and answer those questions honestly,” Siragusa said. “We will not deny you care. But what we need do is make sure that our workers are protected.”

The majority of the cancelled surgeries were scheduled at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital, where there are COVID-19 outbreaks in three units.

Meanwhile, critical care capacity is “dwindling,” Siragusa said.

“Our ICU … is around 92 per cent occupancy, which was higher than on Monday,” she said. Winnipeg’s health-care system has 71 critical care beds, she said. Of those, six were empty as of Wednesday.

There are now 89 people in Manitoba hospitals with COVID-19, including 19 in intensive care. That’s up from 83 people hospitalized and 15 in intensive care on Tuesday.

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health, is warning that critical care capacity is dwindling and Manitobans need to ‘buckle down.’ (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Siragusa says if capacity is reached in Winnipeg hospitals, patients will be moved between wards and hospitals — and could even be moved to Brandon, Man., as needed.

“If [case volumes] keep up like this, it could be days [before that capacity is reached],” she said.

Medicine units in the province are at just under 90 per cent occupancy, she said.

Siragusa says all Manitobans have a role to play in protecting health-care workers and their ability to care for patients.

“We need you to buckle down and help protect our health-care resources for those who need serious medical care over the coming months,” she said.

“You may not be at great risk, but your loved ones, your friends and your neighbours may be. You have a very important role in making sure our health-care system continues to have capacity.”

More help is on the way: Siragusa

Although there’s a 14.5 per cent vacancy rate for nurses in Manitoba, Siragusa says the province is working to fill the positions, especially those in critical care.

Since the start of this pandemic, Siragusa says about 350 people have been deployed into roles like nurses, health-care aides, respiratory therapists and physiotherapists in the COVID-19 pool.

About 50 people per day have expressed interest in health-care positions since the province put out a call a week ago.

“We are actively seeking, interviewing and hiring term and casual positions across the province in a variety of roles, both in community and acute care,” Siragusa said, adding that 15 people were hired this week alone.

Rapid testing is also being used to test health-care workers who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to ensure they aren’t needlessly being sent home and out of the pool of workers, she said.

“I hope this provides some reassurance that more help is on the way as we deal with the second wave.”

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