Kelowna General Hospital is currently operating at 121 per cent capacity due to a high volume of patients in the Emergency Department seeking treatment for flu like symptoms, says the BC Nurses Union.
“It is concerning,” said Christine Sorensen, acting president for the BCNU, noting that 42 emergency patients were admitted to KGH on Monday, 56 on Tuesday and 57 on Wednesday.
“There are admitted patients languishing on stretchers in the hallways and in other units in the hospital.”
This, she said, is compromising the staff’s ability to provide safe patient care because hygiene protocols are compromised— an issue of particular concern due to the circulating flu virus.
What’s worse, she said, if there were to be a large scale emergency, the hospital would not be able to meet the needs presented.
“We haven’t even hit peak flu season,” Sorensen said. “That’s to hit in the next few weeks.”
While high patient volumes aren’t shocking this year, Sorensen said there’s no reason for the health authority to be caught off guard.
“We see spikes in admissions around every flu season,” said Sorensen.
System wide there are shortages that are putting pressure on emergency workers.
“It’s time that the province manages this problem and takes a closer look at recruitment and retention issues,” she said.
In the meantime, public health officials urge people suffering from the flu to avoid spreading the viral infection if possible, and if they need medical treatment to visit doctors’ offices or walk-in clinics.
Visitors are also being urged to stay away from residential care facilities if they have respiratory symptoms, or the diarrhea and nausea associated with Norovirus or similar gastro-intestinal infections.
Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said most people with influenza should contact their doctors or call the B.C. HealthLink line at 8-1-1 for advice before they head for the hospital.
“Trying to avoid the emergency rooms is good because you don’t really want to spread influenza among vulnerable people or health care workers if you can avoid it,” Kendall said.
Anti-viral drugs can be prescribed for people with underlying heart or respiratory illnesses, and they should arrange that in advance, even if they’ve had the seasonal flu shot, Kendall said.
Most healthy people will recover at home with rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
While hospitals and residential care facilities are coping with dozens of outbreaks, this year’s flu season is not as severe as B.C. experienced in the past two winters. Since September, there have been four recorded deaths related to influenza in Interior Health facilities.
This season started early with a mix of influenza A and B strains, with influenza B more prevalent now.
“The good news of this is the influenza B protection in the vaccine is pretty good this year,” Kendall said. “It’s effective 60 to 70 per cent.” Interior Health has 11 outbreaks on its list, including residential care homes in Kelowna, Penticton, Williams Lake, Kaslo and Kamloops.
Influenza vaccines are still available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies. The B.C. government maintains a list of available flu shot clinics at www.immunizebc.ca.
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