COVID-19 patients from Nunavut’s Kivalliq region could face medical evacuation to Winnipeg

But Manitoba’s ICU capacity has shrunk

If Kivalliq residents with COVID-19 need medical care, they could first be brought to the Kivalliq Health Centre in Rankin Inlet before being transported to a southern hospital. (Photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut)

By Jane George

The Government of Nunavut says that residents with COVID-19 are in isolation and are “well, with mild-to-moderate symptoms.”

But as the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Kivalliq region continues to rise — to 153 cases on Nov. 25, the possibility that someone there will become gravely ill and need a medical evacuation is also increasing.

At the same time, the capacity of hospitals in Winnipeg, where acutely ill COVID-19 patients from the Kivalliq would go to receive intensive care, has shrunk.

For now, there’s still room, Dr. Brendan Peddle, the associate chief of staff of the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, told Nunatsiaq News.

But in Manitoba, hospitals continue to fill with COVID-19 patients, putting “a strain on our staff and the health system as a whole,” said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer of Shared Health, in a Nov. 23 update on admissions to hospital for COVID-19 and the number of intensive care unit beds in the province.

In Manitoba as of Nov. 23, 96 of its 103 ICU beds were filled, and, of these, 53 were occupied by patients with active COVID-19 cases. As well, 43 out of 79 patients on ventilators had COVID-19.

While Nunavut has 12 ventilators divided between the QGH in Iqaluit and the Kivalliq Health Centre in Rankin Inlet, their use is intended for emergencies only, Peddle said.

Nunavut has no ICU unit in any of its health centres or the Iqaluit hospital.

“Our current standard is that if the patient is positive for COVID-19 and requires hospitalization, oxygen therapy or higher levels of care, they will be transferred on to one of our southern partner hospitals,” he said.

If the time came when Winnipeg was unable to take additional patients from Nunavut, Peddle said they would transfer patients to one of the territory’s other partner hospitals in Ottawa, Edmonton or Yellowknife.

“If they were all over capacity, we would have to look elsewhere. But from what we understand now they all have capacity to take patients” Peddle said.

That same message was repeated by Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, in his Nov. 25 update on the COVID-19 situation in Nunavut.

A ventilator, which involves placing a tube down a patient’s throat to push air into the lungs, is one of the most severe measures to deal with respiratory distress, Peddle said, adding that “I hope we never have to use them.”

“That’s not to say we can’t use them in the territory, but it is a temporary measure as we transport the patient,” he said.

Meanwhile, pregnant women from the Kivalliq communities are still going to Winnipeg to give birth, but that could change, he said.

Nunavut’s active COVID-19 cases are now all in the Kivalliq, but Peddle said the QGH has made many changes to limit any potential exposure to COVID-19 in Iqaluit.

These include encouraging all patients to call ahead and providing virtual care to some patients by phone.

Those who do visit in person are screened at the door and must wear masks.

The QGH has also changed flow protocols around imaging and laboratories, so patients can be separated there, Peddle said.

To learn more about COVID-19 in the Kivalliq region and the entire territory, you can listen to the next GN news conference featuring Savikataaq, Patterson and others on Friday, Nov. 27, at 11 a.m.

The news conference will be live-streamed from the Nunavut legislative website.

The news conference will also be aired on Bell ExpressVu channel 513, Shaw satellite channel 181 or 489 in the classic line-up package, local cable channel 5 or 602, and the radio in Iqaluit at 92.5 FM.

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