'Unprecedented' flu surge leaves WRHA unprepared and stressed
WINNIPEG -- A surge in three separate illnesses have hit Winnipeg all at once, leaving staff of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority stressed and unprepared for the hundreds of extra patients pouring in.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, new WRHA CEO Vickie Kaminski said compared to last year, the WRHA is seeing roughly 120 more patients per day in emergency departments since the surge began on Boxing Day.
The spike is a result of three separate illnesses: Influenza A and B, along with respiratory illnesses. While each year there is a natural spike in flu cases, Kaminski said this year these three illnesses all hit at once, leaving staff unprepared.
"That was not predicted. It is unprecedented," Kaminski said.
The WRHA said in December 2019 there was an average of 915 daily visits to emergency departments and urgent care centres. So far in January, there has been an average of 991 daily visits.
The increase has impacted emergency departments and urgent care departments, with wait times spiking, Kaminski said.
WRHA chief health operations officer and nursing officer Krista Williams said surge protocols have been put in place to deal with the spike.
"What that looks like for emergency departments or urgent care is they will use all the space possible to ensure the sickest of the sick get the care that they need," Williams said.
She said the WRHA is also looking at expediting less-pressing cases to other health authorities in the province. Kaminski said she was only aware of one patient who was moved to Brandon, Man., for care.
NDP SAY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IS IN CRISIS
"This is pretty stark information, that some of the sickest patients in our health care system are being shipped out, away from the biggest and most well-resourced hospitals and being sent to another centre like Brandon," said Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew.
Kinew said this is a sign of a health care system in crisis due to cuts.
But Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in a written statement to CTV News the steps being taken are protocol when dealing with increased patient numbers. He said the hospital staff are now seeing the highest patient volumes they’ve seen in at least six years.
"We thank physicians, nurses and other front-line staff for their efforts during this challenging time," Friesen said.
WRHA UNABLE TO FULLY STAFF ICU BEDS
Kaminski said the surge has also resulted in increased stress for already short-handed staff. The CEO said the WRHA should currently have 63 ICU beds open, but due to staff shortages it only has 58. The five missing are provincially funded beds at Health Sciences Centre.
The WRHA said out of six Winnipeg hospitals, St. Boniface has the highest nursing vacancy rate of 18.9 per cent as of Dec. 29, 2019. The lowest rate is at Concordia, at 8.4 per cent.
But even with the surge in flu season, Kaminski said she doesn't believe the staff shortages have played a part.
"I don't believe that this is related to consolidation," she said. "Consolidation was absolutely the right thing to do. It actually put all of the resources in place in an acute care setting to deal with acute care services, so we are much better able to deal with that."
Williams said the goal of the WRHA right now is to recruit nursing positions. Kaminski said while the surge in flu illnesses has put a stress on the system, she said the WRHA is resilient.
While she couldn't pin point when the surge in flu illnesses would end, she said it will likely get worse before it gets better. She said these illnesses often work in a two-week cycle, so she estimated it may be another week.
-with files from CTV's Michelle Gerwing