‘I didn’t want her to go’: Family says Manitoba mom with COVID-19 died after aborted Ontario airlift

A Manitoba family is mourning the death of a loved one with COVID-19 after a failed attempt to airlift her to a hospital in Ontario earlier this week.

Elaine Mousseau believes her daughter Krystal, 31, died Monday in Brandon, Man., one day after she was supposed to have been transferred to Ottawa for further care.

“I didn’t want her to go,” Mousseau said. “They kept saying, ‘We don’t have no beds, we have no beds.'”

Officials had said earlier a patient who was about to be sent to Ontario had died prior to takeoff. The patient’s name was not released, but Mousseau believes it was her daughter, a mother of two girls, because the details match.  

Krystal, who was healthy aside from being asthmatic, had been put in a medically induced coma in Brandon Regional Health Centre on Friday.

Mousseau said Krystal’s doctor told her he would call when she was on the plane Sunday, but that call didn’t come.

Health-care workers run tests on a patient thought to have COVID-19 in a resuscitation bay in the emergency department at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg in December. (Mikaela MacKenzie/The Canadian Press)

A spokesperson for Manitoba’s Shared Health said earlier via email a “medically stable but critically ill patient who was identified for transport to an Ontario hospital did destabilize prior to takeoff earlier this week.”

“The patient was provided with care by the critical care transport team and immediately returned to the sending facility. We can confirm the patient passed away the following day.”

Patient’s health declined before transport

Dr. Rob Grierson, chief medical officer of Shared Health’s Emergency Response Services, makes the final call about who is transported out of province.

He says patients who are transferred out of the province are carefully assessed by the critical care team, and detailed discussions happen between the teams sending and receiving the patient.

Grierson says the patient’s health declined as they were being taken aboard the plane, which was staffed with an advanced care paramedic and a respiratory therapist.

Rapid deterioration and death of COVID-19 patients requiring critical care is not uncommon and often cannot be predicted, whether in the intensive care unit or during transport.

“Moving these patients is not something that I personally take lightly. And I realize that there’s a family and a life, obviously, that’s impacted by every one of these moves,” Grierson said. “This was a tragic event and my heart goes out to everybody involved.”

Manitoba patients were first flown out of the province to hospitals in Ontario last week. As of Wednesday, 23 patients had been sent to hospitals in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa, Sudbury, London, Windsor, North Bay and Owen Sound, Ont.

Grierson said he expects four or five more patients will be sent to Ontario by the end of the day.

For weeks, Manitoba’s health system has struggled to make room for increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients needing intensive care. 

Grierson said he feels for patients and staff alike who are impacted by the overwhelmed health-care system.

“We’re doing the best we possibly can to ensure the safety of not just these patients that we’re moving, but all of the Manitobans. And we’re doing our best to try to ensure that there’s capacity in our system for what might be coming in terms of maybe a wave of more cases,” he said.

WATCH | Manitoba woman with COVID-19 dies after attempt to transfer her out of province:

The woman was set to be moved to an intensive care unit in Ontario. But according to Shared Health, the patient deteriorated just before take off and died the next day. 1:30

Transfers should be ‘last resort’: Kinew 

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew spoke of the death in question period at the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday, calling on the provincial government to ensure the safety of sick patients when transferring them between facilities.

“It is a great risk to transfer these patients. It must only be done as a last resort,” the NDP leader said. “We need to know that every precaution, every measure is taken to keep these patients safe.”

In response, Premier Brian Pallister said he wasn’t aware of the death but that transportation for health care is done all the time.

“These are perilous times,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to care for our patients in the best possible way.”

In an interview after question period, interim health minister Kelvin Goertzen told reporters he didn’t know the details of the patient’s death and had just heard about it before coming to the legislature. 

Shared Health reviewing death

The number of intensive care unit spaces has more than doubled since the pandemic started, as hospitals postponed operations and converted space to create new ICU beds. 

Saskatchewan health officials said Tuesday that they planned to take at least one Manitoba COVID-19 patient, with potentially more to come in the next few days.

The teams responsible for out of province transfers have also been busy, as they are also tasked with moving patients between hospitals in the province and into personal care homes, the Shared Health spokesperson said.

Kristy Mousseau, left, with her sister Krystal. Krystal had been put in a medically induced coma in Brandon Regional Health Centre on Friday. (Krystal Mousseau/Facebook)

Because of that, contracted clinical staff and other aeromedical partners from STARS, Vanguard, Keewatin, SkyCare and FoxFlight are helping with transfers.

Later this week, the province will also get help from a Canadian Armed Forces aeromedical team.

Shared Health says it is reviewing the circumstances of the patient’s death with the partner agency that was contracted for this particular flight, but would not say which of the five agencies was involved.

However, Grierson said there will be an investigation to see if a mechanical malfunction or human error played a role.

One of Kristy Mousseau’s last conversations with her sister was just before she was put in the induced coma. She said Krystal told her she was in a lot of pain and just wanted to sleep.

“I remember she said that she was going to sleep now and she doesn’t know when she’ll talk to me again. And she said, ‘I love you,’ ” Kristy said.

“We didn’t want to give up on her. … She was supposed to be OK.”

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