Influx of patients temporarily forced St. Boniface Hospital to send some patients away

Winnipeg health officials attempted to reassure the public that St. Boniface Hospital's emergency room remained open to patients after an influx on Wednesday temporarily forced staff to turn away some who needed certain help.

Memo warning of critical and unsafe patient levels at St. Boniface was overblown, health officials warning

St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg dealt with a "critical" inflow of patients twice in one week, a memo says. (CBC)

Winnipeg health officials called a press conference Thursday to reassure the public that St. Boniface Hospital did not compromise patient care by temporarily forcing staff to turn some people away.

The hospital stopped admitting some patients, who did not require immediate help, for nearly 24 hours beginning Wednesday afternoon.

Confusion arose after an internal memo about the patient redirection was leaked to Global News. The memo indicated there was a "critical" and "unsafe" volume of patients. 

The dire language did not reflect what was happening at the hospital, WRHA president Réal Cloutier said. 

Memo was misleading: official

While there was an unexpected surge in patients, he said people with emergencies were still being admitted.

"The labelling that was used was wrong. It was not an accurate portrayal of what this was about and unfortunately it creates a situation like this," Cloutier said.

"What we can say to the public with confidence is you can get safe care within our health care system."

Rather than sending memos, the head of the WRHA suggested hospital staff "should actually talk to each other."

St. Boniface Hospital president Martine Bouchard and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority CEO Real Cloutier speak to reporters about temporarily diverting some patients from the emergency department. (CBC)

St. Boniface Hospital president Martine Bouchard said she would meet with hospital staff to ensure memos, whether internal or external, reflect the gravity of the situation.

It was the second time in 11 days the hospital was redirecting patients, and Bouchard didn't know if that's ever happened before.

When asked if staff made the wrong call, "these are stressful times, and that's all I'm going to say," Bouchard said. "We need to meet face-to-face and we need to find a proper solution for this."

She said patients coming for tests or checking lab results should be handled elsewhere.

"It should be done in a clinic situation. It should be done elsewhere than in an emergency department."

The system is constantly managing capacity and Wednesday was an average day in terms of demand, but at certain times, like in the afternoon, it got busy, Cloutier said. The amount of patients that were actually diverted, from the medicine, surgery and cardiology units, was miniscule, he said.

"People made a judgment call at the time, probably based on the intensity of the people coming in and a period that they felt that they needed to do something," he said. "The message is the system [at St. Boniface] is safe."

Patient safety concerns

"The most important thing that I said to staff … is that if you have concerns about patient safety, you have to escalate that to your manager," he said.

The diversion of patients comes more than a week after the WRHA closed Concordia's ER and converted it to an urgent care centre as part of a massive overhaul of Winnipeg's health-care system.

The news comes on the heels of a scathing report released on Monday, which revealed a host of concerns with the consolidation plan and the botched closure of Concordia's emergency room.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew didn't buy that a redirection of patients had nothing to do with the conversion of Concordia's ER.

"People have been warning this government that once they close the Concordia ER, there's going to be a huge surge of patients here at St. Boniface. What happens? They close Concordia ER and a week later … they have to start turning away patients."

Dougald Lamont, leader with the Manitoba Liberals, wasn't thrilled that reporters were told the diversion could have been avoided, in part, if people who didn't need an ER went elsewhere. 

"The idea that people should just know better than to go to somewhere else — how can people do that when too often there is no other place to go other than an ER?"


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