Flu outbreak hits Nanaimo hospital

Nanaimo hospital is over capacity and seeing higher volumes of people coming into emergency room

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital is over capacity, with an influenza outbreak on one floor and a “significant” increase in the number of people coming to its emergency department.

The flu has hit health-care facilities across Vancouver Island, but NRGH is the only hospital currently on Island Health’s active outbreak list.

It was added Jan. 4 with four cases of influenza A, and while that number has since dropped to two and there are no other outbreaks in the facility, Damian Lange, the hospital’s director of clinical operations, reports there are patients with the flu on every unit and the number of people seen with flu-like symptoms is rising in the emergency department.

The hospital is seeing about 10-15 per cent more patients coming to the emergency room daily, much of it attributed to flu-related symptoms, according to Lange, who said the increase is “significant” with upwards of 200 people daily compared to the usual 175.

The hospital is also over capacity. It has 340 beds, not counting the spaces that open during high demand, and as of Wednesday afternoon, it had 377 patients.

“We are not quite at the all-time record. We are uncomfortably close,” said Lange, who noted a record was set in early January 2017 with 372 patients, set again at the end of that month with 382 and the hospital saw its all-time high in June with 386.

“It’s definitely a busy hospital and we’ve seen it ramp up since New Year’s Day … with 10-15 per cent more visits to the emergency, there are also more patients being admitted per day which means extra patients on each unit,” he said.

Anecdotally, he’s heard wait times in the emergency room, from the time people arrive to when they see a doctor, has increased 10 minutes from an average 75. Because of the volume of people and how busy it is, there is a bit of a delay getting patients to appropriate beds when they are admitted through emergency, Lange said, but he said no patients are being cared for in hallways. He also said the hospital has seasonal surge plans that involve opening and closing capacity areas and increasing staffing.

Lange told the News Bulletin the type of volume and acuity with flu-related illness is predictable and Nanaimo is one of the last sites to tip into the surge this year. It’s a province-wide phenomenon, he said.

Dufferin Place, Eden Gardens and Parksville’s Trillium Lodge currently have confirmed influenza outbreaks.

Island Health has asked people not to visit hospitals, residential care or assisted-living facilities if they are sick, to avoid using emergency services if their health care can be met by their doctor or at walk-in clinics, and for visitors to wear masks if they haven’t had a flu shot.

Precautions are taken at the hospital to avoid the spread of the flu when there’s an outbreak, such as putting patients that show infectious signs into private or semi-private rooms, enhancing infection control, increasing hand-washing stations and educating visitors.

Christine Sorensen, acting B.C. Nurses’ Union president, told the News Bulletin the union heard Wednesday from the hospital steward that Nanaimo seems to be managing demand coming through its emergency department.

“We have to remember, though, this is a facility where we’ve had some significant concerns raised, just a few months ago, about the work environment and so there is increased attention … by the management on ensuring that there’s active participation by the nurses in how to manage the increased workload, how to manage the patients coming through,” she said, referring to a report on the work environment at NRGH released last fall. “There is more effort being made, I think, at NRGH to continue to provide quality patient care, manage work flow, manage workload and so at this point it sounds like it’s manageable.”


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