Delays, falls, errors led to deaths, worsening care for patients in Manitoba hospitals, report says

Health Fitness

Health professionals are growing increasingly concerned that health-care delays are leading to more patient deaths as wait times in Winnipeg emergency rooms continue to soar.

On Friday, Manitoba Health released its latest report on critical incidents from the last three months of 2022, which shows delays in care, medication errors and falls are resulting in more patients in the province who are suffering.

And this past week, wait times at some of Winnipeg’s ERs exceeded 32 hours, according to the Manitoba Nurses Union.

Former Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson works on the front lines as an ER physician at Grace Hospital. In an interview Wednesday on CBC Radio’s Up To Speed, he said the state of ERs in the province is “an absolute catastrophe.”

“We’re all nervous that there will be a bad outcome in the waiting room, that someone comes in and because they waited so long, something bad happens to them,” Eyolfson said.

“We are doing everything we can to prevent it but we’re all terrified that that will happen on our watch.”

He wonders just how many more patients can wait on stretchers as part of the overflow section at Grace Hospital.

“It’s almost like the sky’s the limit,” Eyolfson said. “I sometimes come in and say, ‘Is there no square inch of space that someone hasn’t been able … to cram a stretcher with a patient in it.

“It’s a desperate situation.”

There’s a correlation between rising wait times and staffing shortages, said Jason Linklater. He is president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, a union representing around 7,200 allied health workers across 44 professions.

Linklater said staffing levels are “nowhere near adequate” and that’s leading to “a dangerous situation” on a daily basis for health-care staff and patients.

“When you don’t have adequate people to do the work, it is absolutely going to negatively impact patients and incidences that are being classified as major critical incidences will certainly increase,” he said.

The latest patient safety report, which includes incidents between October and December 2022, lists 41 reported incidents, including 30 deemed major and 10 resulting in death.

The two previous reports, from July to September and April to June of that year, state there were 23 major incidents and seven deaths, and 20 major incidents and six deaths, respectively.

Linklater worked at Health Sciences Centre for 28 years as an orthopedic technologist specializing in wound care. He said he’s troubled by the information shared by the province in recent reports on critical incidents that shows preventable harm and patient deaths due to pressure injuries and falls.

“It’s very, very upsetting. It’s upsetting for staff. The reason they work there is to help people and when there’s an inability to help people it takes the air out of them … but at the end of the day it’s the patient who came there for care that ends up being the victim,” he said.

“It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible state when incidents keep happening over and over and over again.”

The number of patients waiting in hallways and overflow areas in Winnipeg emergency departments is worrisome, says Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals President Jason Linklater. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In the spring, the Manitoba NDP will reveal their first budget since being elected to a majority government last October. The party has been vocal about fixing health care, and Linklater is hoping for good news.

“I know we hear a lot about balancing the budget and a significant deficit at this point, but it cannot be at the cost of patients that we’re supposed to be there treating, and when people come to a hospital and … when certain incidences occur that are absolutely preventable, it’s a travesty,” he said.

“There needs to be an investment into our health-care system. It needs to be the priority.”

Province needs to be more transparent: CanAge CEO

Manitoba Health’s latest report on critical incidents provides examples of instances of patient care that are preventable, said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy group.

She said the report raises red flags about the level of care being provided, especially as it relates to seniors.

“When we hear about things like falls from transfers or waiting to be transferred to a more appropriate place … age may not be specifically said, [but] it is certainly something that we hear time and time again for seniors. This is especially true where older adults are in hospital,” Tamblyn Watts said.

Laura Tamblyn Watts is the CEO of Toronto-based CanAge, Canada's national seniors' advocacy organization.
Laura Tamblyn Watts is the CEO of CanAge, Canada’s national seniors’ advocacy organization. (Submitted by Laura Tamblyn Watts)

A patient’s personal information needs to be protected, but she contends that hospital reporting is often stripped down and doesn’t provide enough demographic data. The lack of data is harmful and prevents issues from being addressed more directly, she said.

Tamblyn Watts would like to see enhanced transparency from the province.

“The trend here is that Manitoba is very closed. It’s the opposite of transparent,” she said. “And what that generally means is that people are starting to lose trust in their health-care system and are starting to feel like things are being hidden.”

Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara said the system is facing pressures “after years of cuts from the former government.”

Asagwara pointed to NDP announcements in recent months — adding more acute-care beds at two Winnipeg hospitals, and extending hours for discharging patients — as a sign the government is working on solutions.

“The patient safety report is a helpful tool to test how well our system is working for those who need it,” they said in a statement. “Because the former government made it harder to track this reporting, our government is committed to making this report more accessible and useful to Manitobans.”

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