As Manitoba ICUs reach critical capacity, doctors call for military aid, crackdown on order violators

Manitoba intensive care units are severely short on space, prompting a group of doctors to issue a plea for the military to be called in and stronger enforcement of public health restrictions. 

Multiple hospital sources told CBC News ICUs are nearly 100% at capacity

Health-care workers run tests on a COVID-19 suspected patient in a resuscitation bay in the adult emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre. Ten Manitoba doctors are calling on the province to stop 'the denial and downplaying of the absolute desperation in our hospitals.' (Mikaela MacKenzie/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba intensive care units are severely short on space, prompting a group of doctors to issue a plea for the military to be called in and stronger enforcement of public health restrictions. 

Multiple hospital sources told CBC that the province's ICUs are struggling under huge pressure, with the ICU beds at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital as well as those in Brandon nearly full this weekend. 

The sources say several cardiac surgeries were cancelled Friday and the recovery room at St. Boniface Hospital was closed over the weekend so that nurses could be redeployed to ICU.

"I think there's very little question that they're going to have to start sending patients out of province on ventilators yet again," said Dr. Dan Roberts, a critical care doctor at Health Sciences Centre.

Roberts, who penned a letter to the province signed by nine other doctors in the province, says ICU capacity cannot be expanded.

Dr. Dan Roberts is a critical care physician at the Health Sciences Centre. He penned a letter to the province, which was signed by nine other doctors in his field, as well as infectious diseases, internal medicine, geriatrics, rheumatology, gastroenterology and respirology. (Empire Photography)

"They're at the end of their ability to to redeploy personnel to intensive care. The supply of nurses has gone down considerably since June through resignations, retirements and people just aren't volunteering anymore," he said.

"They're just burned out."

In Sunday's letter to the province, Roberts warned, "If poor access to vital health services is to continue, we can expect many more deaths than those caused directly by COVID-19."

In the lead-up to the holidays, the doctors are calling for the government to strictly enforce public health orders by using fines and closures, the letter says.

The doctors also call for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for kids attending school in-person, with some medical exemptions; for rapid tests to be made widely available to businesses and schools; and for holiday gatherings to be restricted to family members.

Although people continue to die of COVID-19, the doctors are also calling attention to those who are suffering because of a surgical and diagnostic backlog in the province.

The doctors say Canadian Armed Forces ICU health workers must be called to step in, and that redeployed health-care workers must return to their surgery, ambulatory care and diagnostic services once replacements are available.

"We've advocated some key measures that need to be implemented in order to get that infection rate down, we can't continue to have this level of cases coming into our acute care facilities. It's shutting everything else down and people are dying on surgical waiting lists," Roberts said.

Doctors Manitoba's online surgery and diagnostic backlog dashboard says there are more than 152,000 postponed procedures since the beginning of the pandemic, an increase of 6,675 procedures from November.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released a report Thursday that during the first 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Manitoba performed approximately 1,900 fewer surgeries per month than in 2019.

"People over the next four or five years are going to die because their colorectal cancers weren't diagnosed in time. There are multiple sclerosis patients who can't get evaluated and who are losing their mobility and their independence, and they'll never get it back because they can't access a clinic," Roberts said.

The letter did not mince words in its criticism of the province's  response to the pandemic, accusing the government of "denial and downplaying of the absolute desperation in our hospitals," the letter reads.

Multiple requests for comment to Shared Health and the province this weekend have not been answered.

Read the letter to the Manitoba government, written by Dr. Dan Roberts and signed by nine other physicians:

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