A spokesperson for Southern Health-Santé Sud, is using the word 'dire' to describe the situation at one of the hospitals in the region. What is going on at Boundary Trails Health Centre (BTHC) continues to be extremely challenging as the healthcare facility struggles under the weight of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're certainly in the ballpark of maximizing our bed capabilities, and we're using many other options to move people around," explains Dr. Denis Fortier, Vice President of Medical Services and Chief Medical Officer for Southern Health-Santé Sud during an interview late Tuesday afternoon. "We had prepared with carving out a ward of about somewhere between 15 and 20 beds in anticipation of what I would call maybe our 'worst-case scenario' for that particular region, and we're there."

BTHC is the hospital serving Winkler/Morden area in southern Manitoba. 

Dr. Fortier does not have the exact figures available regarding the number of beds currently being used at BTHC for COVID-19 hospitalizations, but notes there is a significant amount of activity at the hospital that is related to that, keeping in mind patients continue to attend the facility for other medical reasons including emergency surgery, giving birth and palliative care.

He notes a very concerning trend has developed recently.

"The percentage of people presenting to hospital sick, and very sick with COVID symptoms, and yet have never been tested," says Dr. Fortier. "That is very much not in line with the public health recommendations, and it causes all of us to be blind, and it causes everyone around those people to be at risk, vulnerable people, elderly people, people with illnesses, which in turn then impacts our ability to do the other stuff that we need to do, which is surgery and medical treatments on people who need it."

Dr. Fortier also comments on the facility's staffing capacity to handle the current situation.

"I'll use the word dire, although perhaps not quite as bad," he says. "Last week, because of the high caseloads in that area, a number of our health care providers were required to stay home and not attend work, because they were close contacts with COVID positive patients in the community. So because of that, that put significant pressure on the workforce, and so we've had to, for instance, cancel all elective surgery. So I mean, we still manage, but it's very, very difficult"

Dr. Fortier is also concerned about what ongoing high case counts will mean for staffing levels in the future.

"When we look at the high caseload numbers that continue to come in, and we anticipate that will equal to more and more and more admissions, and more and more exposures of our health care providers to people in the community who then cannot come to work, it's not great. It's not a great situation right now."

Meanwhile, when asked whether any of the frontline staff (including health care workers, the military and Canadian Red Cross) announced Tuesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau destined for Manitoba would be coming to Boundary Trails, Dr. Fortier did not know but did note if those supports end up in Winnipeg, it will help locally.

"I believe some of the biggest pressures are related to the intensive care units in Winnipeg, so I do think that's where most of them are going, which will actually help us, because we've actually had some of our staff be moved to assist in the intensive care in Winnipeg, so if we can get some help federally to help Winnipeg, that in turn will allow our people to come back and work with our institutions," explains Dr. Fortier.

He adds the hospital is utilizing a variety of options to move patients around, so the facility can continue to have the capacity to admit people for COVID-19, noting this situation is not only about those patients, pointing to comments Tuesday by Dr. Perry Gray, Shared Health's Chief Medical Officer, when he used the term "invisible patients", referring to those who need care, and are waiting for medical tests or other procedures.

"These are the patients that do not have COVID, but their health is impacted, directly or indirectly, because of the COVID pressures on the health system," notes Dr. Fortier. "These are people waiting for surgery, sometimes critical surgery. These are people waiting for lifesaving treatments that are now delayed because of COVID, so those are the invisible patients, and this is the cost of this particular third wave of the pandemic. This is the cost on our people, not just people with COVID, but people who are ill and who need our attention."

As for a parting thought, Dr. Fortier encourages everyone to get vaccinated.

"In protecting yourself, you're protecting everyone around you," stresses Dr. Fortier, "You're not allowing the viruses to get into your body, and to mutate, and become stronger and stronger and stronger. The more we vaccinate, the more we blunt the effects of this virus, the more we prevent it from becoming even stronger with more mutations, So let's, please, all band together."