Southern Chiefs Organization calls for end to patient transfers during pandemic

Krystal Mousseau of Ebb and Flow First Nation was to be transferred to Ottawa


A chief in Manitoba is calling for the province to stop transferring patients elsewhere in Canada after a First Nations woman died enroute to Ontario.

Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), said he fears for others after the death of Krystal Mousseau during an attempted patient transfer on May 23.

“We will be looking into all avenues to have the health system and also the government held accountable,” he said, “for the lack of ability to provide help to our citizens. Absolutely.”

Manitoba health officials confirm a patient died during an attempt to airlift him or her but didn’t release further details.

But Daniels identified Mousseau as a 31-year-old mother of two from Ebb and Flow First Nation in southwestern Manitoba who was critically ill with COVID-19.

Brandon General Hospital 

Her younger sister Kristy Mousseau said Krystal was being treated in the intensive care unit [ICU] of Brandon Regional Health Centre after falling ill on May 16.

“She was taken by ambulance on the 16th to [nearby] Ste. Rose [du Lac] hospital – the same day she was tested for COVID – and she tested positive. She needed more care so they transferred her to Brandon [Manitoba’s second-largest city about 160 km away].

Kristy wouldn’t say whether Krystal had been vaccinated for COVID-19.

She said her sister remained in Brandon’s ICU until her mother was informed they were transferring her daughter to Ottawa.

“The 21st is the last time we spoke with her because they [put] her in a medically induced coma…They said it would be better for her. It would help her.”

23 patients

Manitoba has sent 23 patients to neighbouring Ontario, said Daniels.

Krystal was the first to die, according to Manitoba health officials.

The province is in the midst of a punishing third wave of COVID-19 cases that are swamping its ICUs.

Indigenous Peoples account for 40 to 60 per cent of those ICU admissions, according to statistics provided by the First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team.

“We were worried the moment we started to hear that there wasn’t enough room in our ICUs for citizens of Manitoba,” Daniels said in an interview.

“Of course, we’re going to be very concerned because now our citizens aren’t going to be given the proper healthcare here in Manitoba.”

Pandemic restrictions

Premier Brian Pallister blamed Manitobans who were not observing pandemic restrictions for the ballooning caseloads.

But the Opposition New Democrats said there was more to it.

“We’ve seen our healthcare system has been overrun as a result of a combination of cuts by the government and the impacts of COVID-19,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew told a news conference.

“And so I think there is a legitimate question to ask as to whether this person would have survived had they been allowed to remain in the intensive care unit bed that they were in?”

Tributes to Mousseau poured in online as her family grappled with the loss.

A fundraiser was started to raise money for her daughters.

Out of province

Kristy said her mother received a call on May 23 that Krystal, who was asthmatic, would be sent out of province.

“My mom didn’t want them to take her there,” Kristy said via phone.

“The morning of May 24 is when they phoned us and told us she flatlined and they didn’t move her. But they took her back to the ICU in Brandon.”

Early the next morning, Kristy said the hospital called again to say Krystal had died.

“If she wasn’t moved I believe she would have had a fighting chance,” she said.

Review to take place

According to Shared Health, the provincial agency responsible for healthcare in Manitoba, “the current demand for ICU beds is such that the health-care system must look at every alternative to create capacity and continue to provide care to every patient as they present themselves.

“As a result, Shared Health has determined it necessary, with or without patient/family consent, to move patients to facilities in other provinces to create more capacity in Manitoba.

“It is important to note that rapid deterioration of patients requiring critical care is not uncommon in COVID-19 patients and cannot be predicted, whether in the ICU or during transport.”

In the province’s legislature, Premier Brian Pallister, who has come under fire for his government’s handling of the pandemic, says an investigation will take place.

“I understand that review is already underway at the transport level,” said Pallister. “I believe that this analysis is done and will be done in this case but has been done in the past and will continue to be done as a consequence of the need to constantly improve the process and make sure any necessary corrections or adaptations are pursued.”

According to the province, as of May 18, 27 patients with COVID-19 have been moved to hospitals in Ontario and one to Saskatchewan. One person has returned home.

Editors Note: This story was updated Friday afternoon to include information from Shared Health.

Investigative Reporter / Winnipeg

Award-winning reporter Kathleen Martens covers western and northern Canada for aptnnews.ca. A veteran of the Brandon Sun, Sun Media and APTN Investigates, she is based in APTN’s head office, specializing in stories about property, women’s rights and community.

Reporter / Winnipeg

Brittany joined the APTN news team in October 2016. She is Ojibway and a member of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. Before coming to APTN, she graduated with a joint degree in communications from the University of Winnipeg and Red River College.