Average cost of Manitoba COVID-19 patient hospital stay surpasses national average, report suggests

The average COVID-19 patient cost about $1,500 more to care for in Manitoba than the Canadian average and required a longer length of stay than most other provinces, new data suggests.

A report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information on Thursday lays out how Canadian hospital care for COVID-19 patients totalled almost $1 billion in costs between January 2020 and March 2021, not including Quebec.

“The message there is that the COVID-19 patients, they cost more because COVID-19 is a very serious illness,” said Ann Chapman, interim director of health spending and primary care at CIHI.

“If you’re sick enough to get into the hospital, then in fact, there’s a lot of resources that are used to help keep you healthy.”

The report suggests Manitoba was near the top of the heap in several categories alongside other Prairie provinces.

Hospital stays were 14.8 days nationwide and cost more than $23,000 on average across Canada. That’s roughly three times the costs associated with hospitalizations due to a heart attack ($7,000) or pneumonia ($8,000).

But in Manitoba, the average patient care cost of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 was nearly $25,000, third highest among provinces and behind only Nova Scotia (about $27,100) and Alberta ($29,300).

The average Manitoba COVID-19 patient also stayed in hospital for 16.7 days, nearly two days longer than the national average and second longest out of all the provinces and territories. 

Costs and lengths of stay ballooned for COVID-19 patients who required critical care.

Those who ended up in intensive care in Manitoba cost about $54,800 on average to care for, again above the national average of about $50,500 and second only to Alberta ($74,500).

Manitoba had the second highest percentage of ICU patients who had to be put on a ventilator and who died due to COVID-19 at 69 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively. Saskatchewan led in both those categories.

The overall percentage of Manitoba COVID-19 patients who died in hospital was 17.8 per cent, which ties for second with Alberta. Ontario led that category.

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, suggested one reason the Prairie provinces seem to be near the top of several categories may be rooted in socioeconomic factors. 

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens is a medical microbiologist and physician at St. Boniface Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba in the department of medical microbiology. (Philippe Lagacé-Wiens/Facebook)

All three have higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease suffered in Indigenous populations that face barriers accessing health care, among many historical disadvantages. Those chronic illnesses are considered risk factors for COVID-19, and Lagacé-Wiens says the higher rates in some groups points more to socioeconomic factors than determinants of health.

“Those populations were also grossly over represented in hospitalizations and grossly over represented in COVID-19 cases,” he said. “So this likely points toward some of the reasons why we’re seeing longer length of stay.”

Another reason Manitoba might’ve incurred more costs and longer stays could relate to personal care home outbreaks in the first two waves, he said.

“We kind of got a double whammy,” Lagacé-Wiens said.

The CIHI report does not capture Manitoba’s third wave, which saw the province send dozens of patients out of province for critical care due to a maxed out health-care system.

Lagacé-Wiens said he expects next year’s report will see all provinces likely incurred greater costs managing their third and fourth waves, but in part due to the transfers he suspects Manitoba’s costs and lengths of stays may exceed those of earlier waves.

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