Manitoba

Winnipeg's Children's Hospital sees unprecedented number of patients

There were 201 patient visits to the emergency department at Winnipeg's Children's Hospital at the Health Sciences Centre on Sunday — the highest single-day total the department has seen in several years, officials said.

201 patient visits to children's emergency department Sunday, says Shared Health

Health Sciences Centre's Children's Hospital had more than 200 patients visit its Winnipeg emergency department Sunday, the highest single-day patient count in several years, a Shared Health spokesperson said. (CBC)

An early-season spike in respiratory viruses has seen hospital visits for children reach unprecedented levels, officials said Monday.

There were 201 patient visits to the emergency department at Winnipeg's Children's Hospital at the Health Sciences Centre on Sunday — the highest single-day total the department has seen in several years, the statement by Shared Health said — and 114 of them were higher-acuity pediatric patients, several of whom required resuscitation. 

Two weeks into November, the children's department had 174.5 patients visiting per day, exceeding the record pace of 170.3 patients per day seen in December 2019, according to the Shared Health spokesperson.

The hospital's daily average went up about 20 per cent since October, when the department saw an average of 145.8 daily visitors, the spokesperson wrote. Last year, in November 2021, the children's department saw an average of 124 patients daily. 

Medevac pressure

Many pediatric patients are coming from communities in northern Manitoba, arriving via medevac, according to Dr. Marcia Anderson, vice-dean of Indigenous Health, Social Justice and Anti-Racism at the University of Manitoba.

"We think about the strain on the emergency departments down here and across the country, but that strain is also felt in the medevac system, and so these kids are also potentially waiting for much longer just to get on the plane just to bring them to the emergency room," Anderson said.

"We also have to think about that in the context of the workforce shortages and that means those kids are being monitored by kind of short-staffed nursing stations until the medevac can come."

Sixty-four children were medevaced to Winnipeg from Aug. 1 and Oct. 31 due to respiratory illnesses or influenza-like illnesses, said Anderson, with those under the age of 24 months at the highest risk.

She said there were 26 medevacs last year and 37 in 2020.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, a First Nations public health physician, says the medevac system is struggling to keep up with higher patient transfers from northern Manitoba communities due to respiratory illnesses. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

"Those illnesses tend to go up over the next several months and we are already at quite a high level," Anderson said.

"So I do think that there's a lot of cause to be concerned, and I think that should give us all motivation to do the things that we can do to try to slow down the transmission of any respiratory virus," Anderson said. 

With longer transfer times, she worries about medical management in northern communities.

"Little kids can get quite sick with RSV or other illnesses," Anderson said. "We don't want to wait until the point where someone needs a breathing tube or an ICU admission before they get transferred.

"Those are very desperate circumstances."

Additional education has been offered to health-care providers working in First Nations communities to support prevention, early identification and management of viruses such as RSV, a spokesperson from Indigenous Services Canada said in a statement. 

There were 54 babies in the neonatal intensive care unit Monday morning, with 12 babies in isolation because of respiratory illness, per Shared Health.

There were also 10 children in the pediatric intensive care unit Monday morning, Shared Health wrote, and that unit had a pre-pandemic capacity of nine beds.

Still, Shared Health recommends taking a child to an emergency department if they're experiencing difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue or lethargy, or if they're unable to drink fluids.

Staffing issues

The increase in patient visits is creating significant challenges for the department's physicians and staff, the Shared Health spokesperson wrote.

Some staff working in other areas of Health Sciences Centre have been temporarily reassigned to the pediatric intensive care unit to provide additional care in that department, according to the statement. 

"They're doing their absolute best, but quite frankly they're overwhelmed with sick kids who are presenting with RSV, other illnesses, and we are hearing from very worried families about what this means for their kids should they become sick and need to access the hospital," NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.

Asagwara said Premier Heather Stefanson and Health Minister Audrey Gordon need to tell Manitobans what the plan is as children's emergency department admissions rise and discussions are underway with public health experts.

"We know that [Stefanson and Gordon] are hearing from these experts," Asagwara said. "But they're completely silent when it comes to providing that information directly to Manitobans, which quite frankly is fuelling a lot of fear and insecurity."

WATCH | Spike in respiratory viruses see hospital visits for children rise:

Spike in respiratory viruses see hospital visits for children rise

3 months ago
Duration 2:36
Some staff working in other areas of Health Sciences Centre have been temporarily reassigned to the pediatric intensive care unit to provide additional care in that department. Contingency areas have also been opened up to handle additional patients.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nathan Liewicki is an online reporter at CBC Manitoba. He has worked at several newspapers, including the Brandon Sun, the Regina Leader-Post and the Edmonton Journal.

With files from Alana Cole

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