N.L. pediatric ICU nears capacity over weekend, placed on diversion to Halifax

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Secretary John Haggie says the diversion situation at Janeway’s pediatric intensive care unit is unusual. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Any children in Newfoundland and Labrador who became seriously ill over the weekend should be flown out of the province to Nova Scotia to receive care, CBC News has learned.

Due to a lack of capacity, the pediatric intensive care unit at Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s was placed on diversion status this weekend, meaning patients would have been sent to the IWK health center in Halifax. According to an internal email obtained by CBC, employees of the four regional health authorities of Newfoundland and Labrador were ordered to stabilize patients before sending them to Nova Scotia.

CBC has not yet confirmed whether capacity has returned to normal or whether the PICU is still sending patients to the IWK hospital.

Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Newfoundland and Labrador Health Secretary John Haggie said no children were sent out of the province this weekend due to low capacity. He said the PICU in the Janeway has a capacity of six beds and that five of the six beds were full this weekend.

“Eastern Health contacted IWK for an emergency plan in case the sixth bed was full and the seventh patient came in,” Haggie said.

Haggie said he remembers the situation that happened once before, but it’s unusual. He said the unit has an average of three patients at a time.

Haggie said the capacity issues in the PICU are unrelated to the cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Burin Peninsula, which usually affect people under the age of 20.

When asked about concerns about staff shortages in the PICU, Haggie said he is not aware of any “significant challenges” in that unit. However, he said the neonatal intensive care unit has significant staffing challenges.

Since the PICU and NICU are both specialized areas, Haggie said, it can be difficult to bring in personnel from other units.

“It’s a skill that’s hard to find,” he said.

CBC has asked Eastern Health and the Registered Nurses Union of Newfoundland and Labrador for comment.

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