Manitoba was in talks with Thunder Bay hospital days before Stefanson said health-care system didn't need help
Premier Stefanson insists she didn't mislead when she refuted patient transfer possibility the day it happened
Five days before Heather Stefanson insisted publicly that Manitoba's health-care system could care for dozens of critically ill patients, a top health official was talking with leadership at an Ontario hospital that would go on to treat some of those patients.
The NDP argued Stefanson, then Manitoba's health minister, should have known better than to suggest last May that the province could care for all its patients.
Manitoba eventually sent 57 COVID-19 patients out of the province as it struggled to cope with the pandemic's third wave.
"This is very concerning because the premier of Manitoba, who was then the health minister, should have been straight up with people, should have helped to convey the severity of the crisis, but most of all should have just told the truth about what was happening in our health-care system," NDP Leader Wab Kinew told reporters Monday.
Kinew alleges Stefanson deliberately misled Manitobans, but the premier said in a statement that isn't the case.
However, the premier's office didn't answer if Stefanson knew out-of-province patient transfers might be a possibility when she spoke with reporters on May 18.
Shared Health discussed Thunder Bay possibility
It appears top health executives were in the know, however. On May 13, Shared Health CEO Adam Topp had a meeting regarding Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and ICU capacity, according to a copy of Topp's calendar, which was obtained by the New Democrats through a freedom of information request.
Stefanson's own calendar, which the NDP also received, states the former health minister received a briefing that day on ICU capacity, but it doesn't specify if the Thunder Bay, Ont., alternative was discussed.
She proceeded to tell reporters on May 18 that the province could handle an additional 50 intensive-care patients — up to 170 — but later that same day, she was proven wrong. Shared Health concluded it could not handle a single additional patient and sent the first two of three stable COVID-19 patients to Thunder Bay.
"We have the documents to show that the vast majority of Manitobans who were skeptical of the government's claims [of ICU capacity] at that time were, in fact, right, and that the government was not being straight up about the situation in our hospitals," Kinew said.
Even before the Thunder Bay meeting, Shared Health knew the province wasn't capable of absorbing some 170 intensive care patients, despite what Stefanson said.
On May 7, Lanette Siragusa, the province's chief nursing officer at the time, said a second-wave plan to staff as many as 173 ICU beds is no longer on the table. She described it as a "paper exercise" that Manitoba's health-care system could not handle in reality.
Manitoba wound up treating a high of 131 critically ill patients within the province during the third wave.
Between May 13 to 17, Manitoba ICUs admitted 34 patients with COVID-19, which is half of the pre-pandemic capacity for critical care patients in the entire province (72 beds).
In a statement, Stefanson said "under no circumstances did I mislead Manitobans about ICU capacity during the COVID-19 surge last spring.
"I understood Manitoba needed additional ICU capacity and as such was having daily briefings and incident command meetings with Shared Health and public health officials to be briefed on contingency plans," she said.
Stefanson added she only knew of the patient transfers to Thunder Bay after the decision was made by clinical health leaders.
Since last fall, Manitoba no longer transfers intensive care patients out of province. Instead, more than 300 hospitalized and stable patients have been transported from their local regional health authority to a region farther from home.
WATCH | Shared Health working behind-the-scenes to transfer patients to Thunder Bay
With files from Bartley Kives
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