Federal government expected to respond to Manitoba's request for ICU nurses 'within days'

Ottawa is expected to respond to Manitoba's request for assistance later this week, says a federal spokesperson. Over the weekend, the province asked the federal government for 15 to 30 intensive care nurses for approximately six weeks, as per a statement from the province Monday afternoon.

Local physicians pleased the province asked for help, worried more nurses needed

ICU nurse cares for patient. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ottawa is expected to respond to Manitoba's request for federal assistance later this week, says a federal spokesperson.

"Safe to say there will be a response within days," the spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

Over the weekend, the province asked the federal government for 15 to 30 intensive care unit nurses for approximately six weeks, per a statement from the province Monday afternoon.

Winnipeg intensive care physician Kendiss Olafson says the shuffling of intensive care beds has become the "day-to-day reality" of what front-line health-care workers are dealing with trying to combat COVID-19, while also trying to provide the best care possible for non-COVID patients.

Olafson appreciates that the province reached out to the federal government to ask for help over the weekend.

"It's an important first step. I'm happy that our government is willing to ask and receive help. Our ICU staff right now are so overwhelmed and we're in desperate need of assistance to deal with people that are coming through our doors," she said. 

Dr. Kendiss Olafson is encouraged by the province asking the federal government for intensive care nurses, but admits there are concerns more may be needed. (Submitted by Kendiss Olafson)

Olafson, who also has a masters in public health, added that there is the potential for concern if there is an uptick in transmission or a subsequent rise in case numbers.

"I am concerned, however, that cases may be increasing, especially with new variants. And with the holiday seasons coming that this 15 to 30 nurses may not be sufficient unless we are able to introduce further mitigation strategies to decrease our case load," she said.

Dr. Dan Roberts was among 10 Manitoba doctors that penned a letter to Premier Heather Stefanson on Saturday, asking the military to be called for help, and for the province to crack down on people who are breaking public health orders.

He doesn't think the province's request goes far enough.

"I think it's a small number. I think that they should have asked for 40 to 50 nurses," Roberts said.

He said each intensive care bed requires about two to three nurses, so if the federal government approves the request, Manitoba will be able to open about a dozen more ICU beds.

"They're operating about 105 beds right now, they're using probably somewhere near 300 nurses, and they're drowning."

Dr. Dan Roberts says the province's request for federal assistance does not go far enough. (Empire Photography)

As of Monday morning, 102 patients were in Manitoba critical care units, a rise of nearly 17 per cent from a week ago, a spokesperson from Shared Health said.

Among those 102, 35 were COVID-19 patients, all but one of which were not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

In the past week, 22 people were admitted to Manitoba intensive care units for treatment of COVID-19, including two on Sunday, reaching a high of 106 ICU patients at one point over the weekend.

The pre-pandemic baseline for ICU beds in Manitoba was 72.

Roberts cannot recall if Manitoba has ever made a request for federal assistance in the form of military nurses.

He expects Ottawa would swallow the deployment bill if the request is approved.

Roberts is pleased the province is moving — "whether our letter precipitated a decision or not I don't know" — but he is still worried about another issue.

"This is the start, but the request falls far short of the need."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont reiterated Roberts' remarks.

"We need a lot more than a few federal ICU nurses. Manitoba has millions of rapid tests we should be handing out, but we can't use them because the PCs are holding them back. We need mandatory vaccines in long term care homes and real enforcement of public health orders.

"We're still asking for basic, basic stuff in the fourth wave. The PCs seem totally incapable of learning from their mistakes, and Manitobans are paying the price," Lamont said.

Olafson and Roberts are among provincial doctors who have asked for more rapid testing, vaccine mandates among school children, greater enforcement, especially in under-vaccinated communities, and restricting the size of holiday gatherings.

With files from Erin Brohman and Karen Pauls


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