Manitoba

Tracking incidental COVID cases is wrong approach, Winnipeg physicians say

Winnipeg physicians are slamming the province for its efforts to distinguish between patients in hospital because of COVID-19, and patients admitted for another reason but test positive for the virus.

‘I see no other reason for doing what they're doing other than political manipulation'

Health care workers inside the medical intensive care unit at HSC during the second wave of COVID-19. (Mikaela Mackenzie/Winnipeg Free Press/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg physicians are slamming the province for its efforts to distinguish between patients in hospital because of COVID-19, and patients admitted for another reason but test positive for the virus.

Shared Health reviewed the charts of 193 Health Sciences Centre patients with COVID-19 at the beginning of the month and found about 66 per cent were admitted for a reason primarily unrelated to the virus. 

When it came to ICU, 90 per cent of COVID patients at HSC were admitted because of COVID. 

Since the beginning of the year, Ontario has been parsing these admission details. Ontario's latest data suggests 54 per cent of hospital admissions of COVID positive patients were to treat the infection, the rest were admitted for other illnesses.

Dr. Dan Roberts sees these distinctions as a political exercise. 

"I see no other reason for doing what they're doing other than political manipulation," the HSC physician said. 

"If you don't want to deal with the problem or you can't deal with the problem, then the political way of addressing it is to relabel it to mask it."

Dr. Dan Roberts, a physician at the Health Sciences Centre, is one of small group of local doctors who have publicly criticized the government's handling of COVID-19. (Empire Photography)

Roberts says if the goal is to look at the impact of COVID on the health-care system, other metrics should be examined such as actual deaths versus expected deaths, actual admissions versus expected admissions and the number of patients on waitlists. 

Roberts adds trying to tease out incidental COVID is not always straightforward. 

For instance, if a COVID-infected patient with a history of being hospitalized for asthma is admitted, is it because of the underlying condition or because COVID triggered the attack?

Shared Health says knowing the number of hospital admissions "because of COVID" and "with COVID" will help administrators and doctors understand the severity of illness within the population and help with planning the health system response.

"Understanding this distinction helps us better understand the incremental demand that Omicron [variant] is directly placing on the health system," said a Shared Health spokesperson who described the process as a broad overview and not a precise measurement.

This research is in its early stages and there are plans to repeat it at other facilities said the Shared Health spokesperson. 

'Full is Full'

When it comes down to hospital capacity, it doesn't matter whether COVID is incidental or not, according to Winnipeg ICU Dr. Heather Smith. 

"Full is full. Our hospitals could be full of patients with any problem, the overwhelm is true no matter their reasons for admission," Smith tweeted on Jan 14.

Roberts says COVID did not need to wreak the havoc it did on our health-care system. He says the latest rhetoric from politicians that "we must learn to live with COVID" is doublespeak for "we must learn to ignore COVID." 

He says governments have the capacity to act very quickly and aggressively when the political will is there. 

"After 9/11, I don't recall any Western politicians three or four months later saying we must learn to live with terrorism. They went out and hardened every system," Roberts said. "They didn't say, go to the airport and take your chances."

When asked whether the province plans on changing the way it reports hospital numbers, an unnamed spokesperson from the Department of Health said the provincial data team is currently assessing how it will provide data on the reason for COVID hospital admissions. 

Health Minister Audrey Gordon did not respond to a request for comment. 

Tracking incidental COVID cases is wrong approach, Winnipeg physicians say

4 months ago
Duration 2:18
Winnipeg physicians are slamming the province for its efforts to distinguish between patients in hospital because of COVID-19, and patients admitted for another reason but test positive for the virus.

with files from Jill Coubrough

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