Several Manitoba doctors, researchers, and scientists who added their name to a letter to the Premier, raising concerns about the province’s “COVID-19 crisis” are shocked at the response it garnered from Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen.
The letter raised concerns about hospital and critical care capacity and public health funding amid increasing cases of COVID-19 in the Winnipeg region.
In a video clip from a legislative committee hearing Tuesday shared on Twitter by NDP leader Wab Kinew, Friesen questioned the doctors’ motivation “to produce that letter, to generate it at a time when they knew it would have maximum effect in causing chaos in the system.”
The minister’s comments prompted a flurry of responses online from many of the doctors and experts who signed the letter.
Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, a cardiac anesthesiologist and intensive care physician at Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital whose name is on the letter, said the doctors had no ulterior motive and feels the minister’s comments are regrettable.
“I watched the video. I was personally appalled,” said Jacobsohn. “I think the vast majority of the docs who signed that are flabbergasted that our Minister of Health would suggest – that people who are just on the frontlines, they are caring for patients – to suggest that there was some other motive involved in speaking up.”
“It’s clear to everyone that we have a problem in our province. And without apportioning blame something has gone wrong somewhere, in that our numbers are skyrocketing.”
Jacobsohn said the doctors felt they had a moral obligation to speak out about the situation and would have been remiss had they not said anything.
“In fact I think they would be impugned,” Jacobsohn said if they allowed the situation to get any worse without saying anything.
“This was a grassroots group of people who felt they needed to speak up,” said Jacobsohn. “These are decent, honest people who simply wished to speak up. There was no timing. Nobody planned this letter weeks ago and had it sitting in a top drawer. It came out while there’s clearly a huge problem in our city.”
He said people working on the frontlines deserve an apology from Friesen.
Mayor Brian Bowman weighed in, suggesting the health minister should reach out to the doctors.
“I know these are really stressful times for everybody in our community, including public officials,” Bowman said Wednesday during a media conference. “I’d like to chalk up the minister’s comments yesterday to just misspeaking.
“What I would be doing if I were in his shoes today, is I’d be reaching out to those doctors and nurses to find a path forward so that we can better focus on combatting COVID-19.”
Jacobsohn said that remains the focus of frontline health providers, who feel the worst of the capacity challenges may be yet to come.
“And for those who work on the frontline of ICU, as I do, we expect a tsunami in the next 10 days, as we know the critical illness presents in a small percentage of these patients seven to 10 to 14 days later,” he said.
During Question Period on Wednesday, Friesen was pressed by NDP Health Critic Uzoma Asagwara to issue an apology, but that didn't happen.
"I think when I reflect on it in that letter, is that some doctors are really acknowledging that they are scared – and there are many Manitobans that are scared – and that is why as a government it's our responsibility to take action," Friesen said during Question Period.
CTV News has reached out to Friesen's office for additional comment.