Winnipeg woman says she got just 2 hours' notice before hospital transfer to Flin Flon

The woman says she was transferred to the Flin Flon hospital, an eight-hour drive away, after more than two months in hospital and a brush with death.

62 patients transferred since Manitoba introduced new policy to free up beds during 4th wave: Shared Health

Kristina Markus, left, is pictured here with her sister, Kerris Ritchie. Markus says she got little notice before she was moved to a hospital more than 600 kilometres from her home. (Kristina Markus/Facebook)

After more than two months in hospital and a brush with death, a Winnipeg woman says she got just two hours' notice before being transferred to a facility hundreds of kilometres from her home.

Kristina Markus said that barely gave her sister — one of her biggest advocates during an extended hospital stay — time to make it from her home in Rosenort, south of Winnipeg, to Seven Oaks General Hospital.

"Bless her heart, she raced in to be able to say goodbye. It was — I can almost start crying now, because it was awful," the 48-year-old said on Friday, her voice quiet and shaky.

"They said they'd give us notice," of any transfer, she said. "Two hours' notice is appropriate?"

Markus was transferred in a tiny plane to the Flin Flon General Hospital, about 630 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, earlier this week.

She's one of dozens of patients who have been moved as Manitoba works to free up hospital space during the province's fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.

Since the new policy was announced about two months ago, 62 patients have been moved to facilities in other regions, a spokesperson for Shared Health, which oversees health care in Manitoba, said in an email.

Markus is one of 41 patients moved from Winnipeg, while 21 others have been transferred from the Interlake-Eastern health region.

"We recognize that patient transfers to different sites — particularly sites located in other health regions — can be unsettling and disruptive for both patients and their families," the spokesperson said.

Brush with death

Markus's hospital stay — which took her to three Winnipeg hospitals before Flin Flon — began on Sept. 16. She noticed she had a bad rash and severe edema — a buildup of fluid that causes swelling — which she'd had before. 

She was taken by ambulance to Seven Oaks, and was soon moved to Grace Hospital. A few weeks later, she was rushed to St. Boniface Hospital and put on dialysis.

"I went downhill and lost consciousness. I actually almost passed [away]. They had called my sister and dad letting them know they weren't sure I was going to make it through the night," Markus said.

"When I woke up on the third morning, the doctors and nurses just kept saying they were happy I was still with them, because that's how close it was."

She eventually stabilized and was moved back to Seven Oaks to start physiotherapy. Over a few weeks, she went from barely being able to stand to taking steps with a walker, she said.

But that progress was interrupted a few days ago, when a hospital manager came to her room to tell her she would have to leave.

"'You're either going to Flin Flon or we discharge you and you get picked up and go home,'" Markus remembers the worker saying.

"I can't walk. How can I go home?"

The Shared Health spokesperson said clinical teams can decide to move patients who are stable and appropriate for transfer. The patient's consent isn't required, and they get letters explaining that possibility when they're first admitted to hospital.

Markus said she understood that, but thought she'd get more notice — and that if she was moved, it wouldn't be as far away as Flin Flon.

Markus, middle, is pictured with her sister, right, and her home-care aide, Amardeep. Markus is one of 41 patients transferred from hospitals in Winnipeg since Manitoba introduced the new policy about two months ago. (Submitted by Kristina Markus)

Now, she's worried about her mental health and whether being treated so far from her support system will take a toll on her recovery.

"The nurses are great. I've vented a few times and they have listened, but I mean, they have a job to do too," Markus said. "They can't just sit and listen to me."

Shared Health's spokesperson said Flin Flon's hospital has a team of nurses, physicians and a clinical resource nurse who provide mental health and social supports within their scope of practice.

"We encourage the patient and/or her family to reach out to a patient relations team to discuss their concerns if they haven't already," the spokesperson said.

'Completely lacks compassion'

Manitoba's health minister said Friday she couldn't comment directly on Markus's situation because she wasn't aware of the circumstances.

"But I do know that our clinicians and the clinical teams are making these decisions based on an acute care protocol that has been in place for a long time," Audrey Gordon said after a news conference in Selkirk.

"These are clinical decisions that are being made, not [ones made] by politicians in the legislative building."

Later Friday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew called on the province to set a timeline for when the practice of moving patients so far from home will end.

"This just completely lacks compassion," the Opposition leader told reporters.

"This significantly adds to the challenges that Kristina faces in her recovery, because the family and social supports that she had access to here in Winnipeg are just put out of reach for her."

Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Friday that the decisions to move patients between hospitals are made by clinical teams, not politicians. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

For now, Markus said she's trying to stay positive and hopes her stay in Flin Flon won't last longer than the estimated three weeks.

She also hopes her story helps educate people about the impact of the strain on Manitoba's health-care system on patients.

"I just want people to … have their eyes opened to the costs that are involved in this."

Winnipeg patient gets 2 hours' notice before hospital transfer to Flin Flon

9 months ago
Duration 1:43
After more than two months in hospital and a brush with death, a Winnipeg woman says she got just two hours' notice before being transferred to a facility hundreds of kilometres from her home.

With files from Jenn Allen and Caitlyn Gowriluk